Shopping For Your Best Self: My Journey to Consumer Activism

The fashion industry had always been my escape, but when I took the time to think about the labels that I was wearing I asked myself: what am I supporting? For decades, I had poured thousands of dollars into industries that engaged in slave labor, human trafficking, child abuse, sweat shops, sexist and racist practices, pollution, and environmental waste. I’m not ignorant — I knew my clothing was not made ethically, but I told myself the lie that many of us tell ourselves to justify these purchases: there is very little I can do about it. But that is not true. The truth is that I have complete say and power in where I allocate my money and this choice matters. But, to change these spending habits I would have to become a different consumer and the market wouldn’t make this transformation easy. First, I would have to confront my relationship with shopping. Second, I would need to ask myself what I truly cared about and then figure out how to apply those values to new spending habits.

How did my relationship with shopping begin and how did this relationship determine my spending habits? Like all children and teenagers, I experienced several moments of anxiety, self-doubt, and insecurities early in life. This state of mind made me perfectly vulnerable to predatorial ads, sales, and advertisements by the fashion industry. It seemed I could always find a way to cover up my pain, fear and worries with a new scarf, sweater, jeans — an entire outfit that would create a new me. Creating her gave me the perfect distraction — I wouldn’t have to confront the underlying feelings of anxiety that led me to online shopping. Instead, I could lose myself in a process that didn’t want me to be a critical thinker, consumer, or activist. And I wasn’t when it came to shopping. I let companies, advertisements, paid social media ads all tell me what would make me feel better. And when I placed my order I did feel better. But, like all distractions this moment of relief was fleeting.

When the feelings caught back up to me, the shopping industry would draw me back in. We all have our activity — that thing that allows us to escape from our problems and feelings — and for me that is online shopping. Unfortunately, not only was I not dealing with the issues that led me to online shopping, but I was so consumed by it that I wasn’t paying attention to the decisions and choices I was making while doing it. How would I change these behaviors?

First, I realized I had to be conscious of them. Online shopping had allowed me to slip into a state of unconsciousness and I had to bring myself into the present to actually witness the choices I was making. In the beginning, this practice did not change my spending habits, but it did change my awareness of myself. I didn’t stop myself from buying boxes of new items, but upon their arrival I started to ask myself: what’s going on? How am I feeling? What is contributing to these feelings and leading to these actions? This changed shopping from being an absent-minded escape to an outcome that revealed underlying issues and decisions that I could confront.

And I did confront them — I went to therapy, I talked to friends and family about my issues, I gave myself space and freedom to release my emotions, and tried out alternative activities for processing these hardships…and slowly my shopping cart didn’t feel so important. Now did I go months avoiding online shopping and then revert back to old habits? Absolutely. Our coping mechanisms are deeply engrained into our emotional fabric. They don’t go away easily. We’ve relied on them for years to protect us and they have made us feel safe. And that’s ok. But we can change them slowly — as we make room for new lifestyles, habits of selfcare, and discover alternative ways to confront many of life’s difficulties that continue to come and go.

We also have to decide if we want to completely get rid of a habit or change it. When it came to shopping, I didn’t want to give up the activity. I love clothes, fashion, and brands. I see fashion as a form of self-expression and that is important to me. But I also didn’t want shopping to be an unhealthy coping mechanism. So, I considered the consequences of my actions and was able to see where I was spending hundreds of dollars over my lifetime. Most of my money was going to big corporations, companies that had poor environmental practices, brands that were established by paying workers unlivable wages. And I asked myself: what do I want my money to go towards?

It was a moral question. Shopping aside — what do I really care about? For me, I care most about women and especially women of color. I see women as the backbone of society and I’ve seen the ways in which their labor is often exploited, taken for granted, and devalued. I also care about addressing violence against women — community violence, sexual violence, domestic violence, police violence. I also want to support women entrepreneurs. I was raised by a Puerto Rican mother who without any wealth of her own started and ran her own small business. This business put food on the table, and it allowed me to see what women are capable of when they have the chance to lead. At the end of the day while I may care about a lot of things — what I care most about are women and especially women of color. I want to invest in their labor, businesses and leadership. So, I researched companies with these goals and leadership (this research is provided at the end of this post).

I looked up companies and small businesses that aligned with these moral principles and made a list of them. And now when I want to go shopping I pull up this list. When I need to buy a gift for someone, I buy from one of these companies. And it feels genuinely good to know that when I make purchases that I am not being absent minded about where my money is going. It also feels good to change my relationship with shopping. Instead of shopping being a coping mechanism for my anxiety — it’s now an outlet for other things that bring me joy — gifts for people that I care about, a gift for me once in a while as an act of self-love, and an opportunity to support causes I care about.

Now, do I only buy from these companies? No. I needed a heating pad on short notice, and I ordered it from Amazon. I bought waterproof sneakers from Sorel which has better than average labor practices, but isn’t uplifting workers or women. I bought cat food from Target. Before, when I made these types of purchases, they made me feel hypocritical. These choices made me feel bad and second guess myself: well if I can’t be completely consistent why bother? But that is the power of capitalism: making you feel like you have no control over these systems. And while most of us cannot live our lives in ways that completely relinquish control from these systems — we can do a lot if we are patient and kind to ourselves. I now understand the position this system puts me in and all the predatory practices that come with it. So, I do my best.

Whenever it is feasible, I buy from companies that I view as ethical and women-supporting. But I also acknowledge that we are living in a capitalistic society not built on morals and principles. And so I am kind to myself when I make a purchase on Amazon, or when I revert back to old habits of binge shopping — but that should never stop me from trying to be the best version of myself that I can be. For me, that means confronting my issues head on and not hiding from them. It also means being critical about where my money and time goes — and to make sure most of these dollars and efforts go towards causes and people I care about. We have to stop feeling like we are powerless just because we can’t completely change a habit, behavior or system. There is so much power that lies in small changes — a new awareness, little shifts in behavior, new commitments to principles…and this is what leads to real and sustainable change — within ourselves and within our communities.

Below are some outlets for the causes I want to support, but it is up to you to decide what you really care about. When we are motivated by our own principles that’s when we really can commit to the types of changes we want to see in the world.

Companies, Businesses & Entrepreneurs that support Women & Women of Color:

Profits That Go Back to Women:

Thistle Farms - Profits go towards helping women survivors recover and heal from prostitution, trafficking and addition. Specifically, purchases go towards housing, medical and mental health appointments for survivors, wages for survivors, and survivor artisans employed by partner organizations. [Products: Candles, Essential Oils, Bags wallets, jewelry and accessories]

31 Bits - When you buy anything from 31 Bits, you are helping provide ethical working conditions and fair and consistent incomes for women in Uganda and Indonesia. Profits go directly to the women who make these products. [Products: Jewelry]

Able -When you buy anything from Able your purchase is going towards working women. The company is committed to paying women livable wages and ending cycles of poverty locally and globally. [Products: clothing, accessories, jewelry, shoes, gifts]

Nisolo -Co-founded by a woman and the company invests back into shoemaker communities by providing stable and fair compensation, safe working conditions, and bi-weekly skills training in finance management and leadership. These investments have uplifted women and their families —increasing accessing to higher education and encouraging other opportunities for entrepreneurship. [Products: shoes]

McBride Sisters Wine Collection -One of the largest Black-owned Wine companies in the United States that focuses on increasing leadership of Black women through their She Can collection and She Can Professional Development Fund. [Products: wine]

Bee Love -This business started as a social enterprise to address the impact of mass incarceration on Black women. It is meant to provide stable work experience for folks with high barriers to employment, such as previous experiences with incarceration. [Products: honey, luxury bath products, lotion, scrubs]

Honey Pot - Founded and run by a black woman, honey pot is a line of products for vaginal health. Products are plant-based and avoid harmful chemicals and ingredients. Plus, some of the product revenue goes towards helping those who cannot afford menstrual care (i.e. homeless and low-income women). [Products: menstrual products, tampons, period cups, herbal remedies for vaginal health]

Sudara - Founded by women and for women. Every purchase supports living-wage employment and skills training for women in India who are at a high risk or survivors of sex trafficking. [Products: clothing]

Conscious Step - This brand allows you to choose which cause is most important to you, from supporting women, to the environment, to animals. All socks are ethically made from organic cotton and go towards causes you support. [Products: socks]

Designed by Women for Women:

Hause of Curls -Founded by a Latina Fashion Stylist and run by Latinx folks, this company creates products that promotes embracing curly, natural hair. [Products: T-shirts, curly hair products, hair accessories]

Farm Rio -This is a group of collectives from Rio de Janeiro Brazil. The brand was co-founded by a woman who wanted to launch a clothing line that embody the feminine sprit and vibrant colors of Brazilian culture. [Products: clothing]

Love Vera -Found by black women, modeled by black women, for women of all different body types.Every purchase creates opportunities for Black women in fashion. [Products: lingerie, underwear, sleepwear, bras]

Vetta -Founded by and designed by women. This company uses ethical labor practices. All clothes are made in the United States and made through environmentally sustainable practices. It’s a minimalist design with the idea that a few items of clothing can create a variety of outfits. [Products: clothing]

Amour Vert -Founded by a woman all products are made in the United States. The brand advocates for sustainable fashion. They do a “Women We Amour” that showcases that many powerful women that choose to wear the brand’s clothing. [Products: clothing]

Café con Libros -Bookshop café and feminist community space where women especially women of color can deepen their understanding of the world and each other. [Products: books]

Luna Magic -Affordable makeup company that was founded and developed by two Latina sisters. The makeup collection is defined as a celebration of the rich culture found in the Caribbean and Latin America. [Products: cosmetics]

The Dream- Affordable and one of a kind jewlery. This company was founded by and is still co-lead by a Puerto Rican woman with her Cuban husband. [Products: jewelry]

Babe Comets- An accessory company founded by a woman of color that sells products are designed by women of color. The mission of the business is to create a community that boasts of self-love, communal appreciation, and boundless affirmations. [Products: earrings]

Viviana D’ Ontanon- One of the most popular accessory brands in Puerto Rico; this business is led by a Latina woman with the vision of providing elegant and beautiful jewelry at an affordable price to women. [Products: jewlery]

Ayana Mack Design- A woman of color artist, she creates bright and texture-rich art. She says her art is motivated by personal experiences, black culture and self love. [Products: art, glass sets, ornaments, wine decanters, gifts]

Aedes By Shay Skincare LLC- Company for plant based vegan skincare. Founded by a woman of color, she sells products that include aromatherpy body oils for hair, face and body. [Aromatherapy]

Brown & Coconut- Led and designed by women of color this company sells products that are plant-based and with minimal ingredients for your skin. [Masks, Aromatherapy, skin care products]

A Sistas’ Love LLC- Black women owned candle business that produces candles celebrating African-American women. [Products: candles]

Ankhara By Luciana @ Etsy- Products are designed and produced by a woman of color. She sells luxury home decore and texitles. [Products: pillows, blankets, rugs, handbags]

Promoting Women Empowerment:

Femme Kulture - Founded by a Latina this is a clothing line meant to highlight strong and inspiring Latinx women. [Products: shirts, sweaters, accessories]

Sea Ana Creations Shop @ Etsy -Small business designed and run by a black woman who sells a variety of inspiring clothing and accessories that promote women of color empowerment. [Products: shirts, sweaters, accessories]

Jen Zeano Designs @ Etsy -Small business designed and run by a Latina who sells a variety of inspiring clothing and accessories that promote Latina culture and empowerment.[Products: clothing, accessories]

Spiritu -Company is founded by women of color for women of color. They promote women and Latinas and spirituality. [Products: accessories, art, gifts, candles, clothing, jewelry]

Biblio Femme @ Etsy - Latina entrepreneur selling artist prints, stickers, posters, and gifts that are intend to empower diverse women with words and art. [Products: art prints, gifts, stickers]

The Everyday Print Co @ Etsy -Women of color entrepreneur sells Modern Afro wall art and prints, many of which that promote body positivity, femininity and resilience among women of color. [Products: art prints, clothing, postcards]

Lil Miss Rosies @ Etsy -Woman entrepreneur that sells products that promote women of color, especially: Afrolatinas, Latinas, and Boricuas. [Products: clothing, bags, gifts, prints]

Karla and Co. @ Etsy- Latina entrepreneur that makes products that promote Latina culture and empowerment. [Products: clothing, gifts]

The Poetic Artiste- Support this woman of color artist who produces empowering art about women, women of color, and sexuality. [Products: Art]

Idith Inspo- Products are designed and produced by a Latina, meant to inspire and empower others. [Products: stickers and magnets]

Soap Her Girl- Eczema friendly bath and body products that are meant to celebrate women, empower all, & make women feel good about their skin. [Products: soap]

*************** Have suggestions of women-led companies and women-designed products? Feel free to send me a message. I update this list regularly as I find new businesses ***************************

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