A mindful consumer

I’ve wanted to write a blog post for a while about some of the wonderful businesses and people out there that are bucking the trend of mass production, in today’s fast-fashion, throw away culture.

Over the past few years I’ve become more conscious about the choices I make as a consumer – from food and cosmetics to household products and clothes.  Of course, my taste in clothes has changed as I’ve got older, and I now look for something more classic that will last.  I’ve also tried so many cosmetics and toiletries over the years, shamefully wasting money on products that weren’t quite right, which then ended up in a drawer somewhere.  I now have my favourite go-to products that I simply replenish when needed.

Sometimes it’s hard to know what we can do as individuals when the planet seems to be suffering so much under the strain of a growing population.   Like many others, my husband and I recycle; it’s amazing how quickly our recycling bin fills up in the kitchen with plastic, cardboard, paper, tin and glass.  I still find it so sad when you see fresh vegetables wrapped up in plastic in the supermarkets (an individual broccoli!?) – I say bring back the greengrocer to more villages, towns and cities!  Or at least display produce free from plastic.  I noticed more plastic free produce in supermarkets in places like Switzerland, when I visited last year.  Excessive plastic is being used on a vast number of products, and seeing wildlife damaged by plastic pollution in our oceans, for example, is heart wrenching.  So, I’m learning what I can do to minimise my use.  I say learning, as there’s more I could be doing, I’m researching different ways and taking inspiration from people like Ali CliffordEmma Ross, Mel Wiggins, and Cait Flanders’ A Year of Less book on reducing waste.

I love shopping, a bit too much I think, and I’m long overdue a declutter to start to appreciate all that I have and resist the temptation to buy more.  I do think having too much clutter clogs our minds, and it’s far simpler to have a parred down wardrobe of items we love.  Or, like I mentioned earlier, use just a handful of some favourite cosmetics and toiletries that make us feel good, are cruelty free, good for the environment, and suit our hair or skin type.

However, when I buy clothes I now mostly buy from a few favourite brands, that have good ethical and environmental policies, and treat their workers fairly.  Granted, it’s sometimes difficult to know for sure whether it’s just a marketing ploy to say they produce ‘ethical’ or ‘natural’ products.  But, what I look for is policies on their website, their back-story, stories about the people they work with and any press articles about their ethics.  The Ethical Consumer website is a useful source of information.

Once I believe in a brand having done my research and feel comfortable about their practices I am more confident in buying from them.  When it comes to raising our awareness about the fashion industry, as a consumer, it’s worth taking a look at books Slow Fashion and Slave to Fashion.  Slow Fashion author Safia Minney MBE is a pioneer in the area of ethical fashion, and I would recommend reading more about her work.  Safia also features in Stacey Dooley’s recent BBC documentary ‘Fashion’s Dirty Secrets‘ – this was a real eye-opener for me, and the devastation being caused by mass production of clothes is shocking – I urge you to watch it.  The effects on the environment greatly saddened me and have made me stop and think again about where I’m buying my clothes from.  One of my favourite brands is Toast – but it is quite pricey for my budget, so I look on eBay for any second hand bargains.  That’s one way of minimising the effects of fast fashion – recycle clothes; buy second hand, or swap with friends.  Of course, buying less and not being swayed by the constant marketing machine is the ideal way to go, and appreciating what you’ve got.  This is one I’m practising – asking do I ‘need’ it or just ‘want’ to buy it.  One of my goals for winter is to have a clear out of my wardrobe, rediscover what I already own and appreciate what I have!

In a few months I will become a mum for the first time, and I want to keep our babe’s clothes to a minimum and ensure that what they do wear is of good quality and ethically produced.  Once I’ve got into the swing of motherhood and learnt how to successfully put on a nappy (!) I’m going to investigate reusable nappies that minimise the use for disposables.  We’ve already had a few handmade items given to us which I love – I’m definitely a fan of homemade.  My mum has given us a gorgeous knitted cardie and blanket so far.  I’ve been telling myself for years that I’ll learn to knit and start making my own clothes, but that’s still a work in progress!

I’ve also been buying cosmetics and toiletries that are as natural as possible for a while now.  Again, it’s a bit of a mind-field with marketing vs truth.  I’ve started using natural deodorants which I love and find more effective than mainstream brands I used to buy.  They are a little more expensive, but they last.  My favourites are Fat and the Moon and The Natural Deodorant Company.  I’m certainly not being endorsed to recommend these, I’ve just tried a few and these are the ones I now love to use.  I also use Faith in Nature products for my hair.

I remember at university I studied rural West Africa as one of my Geography degree modules, and wrote an essay entitled ‘Plants as Medicine’.  I loved researching for that and found it so interesting how so many plants have such wondrous properties.  Therefore, I look to nature as much as I can for my hair and body products, rather than using too many chemicals.  Plus, the products I use tend to smell gorgeous and feel so much better on my skin.  One of the products I love and am fascinated by is Dr Bronner’s Castile Soaps.  Founded in 1948 by Emanuel Bronner, Dr. Bronner’s honours its founder’s vision by continuing to make socially & environmentally responsible products of the highest quality and dedicate their profits to help make a better world.  What I love is their 18-in-1 Pure-Castile Soaps which are good for just about any cleaning job, and can be used on your face, body, hair, food & pets, to do the dishes, laundry or mop! How cool is that!  The wonders of nature.

I’m still learning as I go but aim to be as mindful a consumer as I can be.  There’s no getting away from the fact that we all ‘consume’ – whether that be food, clothing, toiletries, basically at any point in our lives where we have a choice of where we spend our money.  That’s where I hope we can all start becoming a little more conscious in that decision-making process.  I heard someone recently say that we are the ‘gatekeepers’ to our homes, and we get to choose what we purchase, so true.

Whenever I buy gifts for others, I love to look in markets; I’ve heard the Frome Independent market, for example, is great, and there are plenty of similar markets nationwide.  One of the aims of the Frome market is to ‘reclaim the high street’.  I would love to see less big chains taking over our high streets and more independent shops thriving again, as was more common years ago.

My favourite online shop The Future Kept is run by a lovely couple – Jeska & Dean Hearne both photographers who have an eye for beautiful things.  They curate a wonderful selection of home décor and lifestyle products from natural skincare, traditional Welsh blankets and handmade ceramics to jewellery, knitwear and candles.  Products always arrive beautifully wrapped with their personal touch.  I love their philosophy too:

“We provide quality goods with an honest provenance that we use in our day-to-day lives, items made to last that will not fuel the throwaway nature of the modern world, heirlooms of the future. We hope to inspire a curiosity and desire within people to make more sustainable and ethical choices”.

The key for me is if you’re going to buy something special for yourself or someone you care about – maybe look at an ‘heirloom of the future’ – something that will last and be treasured rather than something mass produced.  I’d personally rather give my money to the incredible craftspeople out there keeping traditional skills alive.

It doesn’t have to cost more, it just takes a little more time to search out the right products either at a market, or from a store that sources unique products from independent producers.  There are also products that we can make for ourselves.  My next mission is to start swapping our household cleaning products for more natural ones.  Hannah Bullivant has some great recipes on her website, worth checking out.

Other shops or independent makers I love are Rust JewelleryAstrid & RoseGemma KoomenMidgley Green, Kathy Hutton Prints, Wild Flower Illustration, People Shop, Essence & Alchemy – to name but a few.

I’m ashamed to say that I still buy from Amazon on occasion, as I said it’s a work in progress, but I need to move away from that too.  There are much more ethical ways of buying books – either from your local bookshop – I love a browse in a bookshop, and if you’re ever in the Peak District – this is my all-time favourite – Scarthin Books.  Alternatively, if you want to buy online, Hive Books supports local booksellers by donating a percentage of each sale to a bookshop on the high street of your choice.  Ideal!

Writing this blog serves as a reminder to myself that when I do buy something, do it as mindfully as I can, and I hope it has inspired you to consider this if you don’t already.

In summary, here are a few tips for being a more mindful consumer.

  • Research your favourite brands to find out how ethical they are; how they treat their workers, where goods are manufactured, their environmental and staff policies.   It’s a complicated issue, but we need to start somewhere and find out what we can.
  • Check out brands on the Ethical Consumer website.
  • Take a look at these two websites of inspiring women Lauren Singer aka ‘Trash is for Tossers’ and Bea Johnson both on a mission to produce zero waste.  I particularly like Lauren’s ‘Easy Changes‘ page.
  • Have a read of articles on this website.  Although no longer publishing, they have some great archive blog posts.
  • Watch documentaries such as Fashion’s Dirty Secret.
  • Buy less.
  • Buy natural and cruelty free.
  • Search on eBay for clothing or household goods.
  • Swap clothes with friends.
  • Declutter what you own, give excess to charity or sell.  Remind yourself of all that you own and remember why you bought it in the first place.  If you no longer use it give it to a new home.
  • Repair clothes that you love but aren’t wearing as they’re damaged.
  • If you’re lucky enough to have a greengrocer, fishmonger, butcher etc near you, buy locally from them…keep the high street and independent businesses alive!  If not, think about buying from a local farm shop or deli, or ordering online at places such as Riverford or Abel & Cole.
  • In the Summer months find your local ‘pick your own’ farm.  I’ve done this with friends in Surrey before, and loved picking fresh vegetables and fruit (strawberries etc).  Or try growing your own!
  • Check what you have in your food cupboards and fridge and think about batch cooking some meals with what you have before you buy more.  This is something we really need to do…we once discovered we had about 4 x bottles of Worcestershire sauce in the cupboard because we hadn’t checked before buying more!
  • Always have your reusable shopping bag handy.  I love string bags such as Turtle bags.  I’ve always found they can fit loads in.
  • Get yourself an eco-friendly, reusable water bottle to minimise the use of single plastic bottles.
  • Buy from independent high street and online stores.  Of course, still check out their ethical polices, but giving your business to the small, independent makers out there is important to keep their businesses going and you can also buy longer lasting and more unique items in many cases.  I also like to buy handmade items from the UK.  The Future Kept is great for this.
  • Unsubscribe from any newsletters selling you goods that you don’t need.
  • Experiment with making your own household cleaning products.
  • Look at your household budget and think about what you could let go of in your spending in order to afford better quality, more ethically produced clothes, cosmetics & toiletries, food and household goods.

As always, I hope this blog has been useful.  This is only a small step in the right direction, but let’s start today, and collectively I hope it can make a difference one day.  Please do share your own ethical ways of living, and any tips and advice you have for buying better products and making a difference environmentally, particularly for those on a tight budget.

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  • Fabulous post Emma and great to read this. I’ve been thinking a lot about all this recently too and have returned to Riverford for my veg for starters. Will check out some of your links and look forward to exploring. I’d forgotten you did Geography – my daughter is now serious about studying Geography from next year and we went to Sussex Uni Open Day yesterday. A great subject!

  • Thanks Emma. Some great resources here, love the Hive Books idea…. It’s a mind field all of this isn’t it. As we wake up to the nightmares we are creating to own a pair of jeans for example I’d love to see government legislation step up and lead too for quicker mass behavioural change. As I come more into harmony with my true purpose, listen to my heart there is far less STUFF in my life and far more nature. Thanks for encouraging more of us to become conscious and connected. x