Can you actually “do good” by shopping ethically? And what about the claim that we change the world with our purchasing power? If we can, it means great things for the future. One thing we know is that our generation likes to shop. By and large, consumers create the demand that drives the market. If we want to change this world, we need to change what we buy. Purchasing “power” indeed.

The Andean Collection, Amanda Judge, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, fair trade, fair-trade clothing, fair-trade fashion, fair-trade accessories, eco-friendly jewelry, sustainable jewelry, eco-friendly accessories, sustainable accessories, social responsibility, conscious consumption

PLAYING IT STRAIGHT

While consumers may be in the driver’s seat, it’s companies and designers who are responsible for making all those pretty things we want to buy. And it is these companies’ actions that will ultimately make or break the sustainable shopping movement. If they act ethically and transparently, it will embolden the movement. If they use “fair trade,” “green,” or “eco” as a marketing tactic with little to back it up, they’ll invite skepticism upon others who are doing the right thing.

If companies use “fair trade” as little more than a marketing tactic, they’ll invite skepticism upon others who are doing the right thing.

As the concept of conscious consumerism takes off, there are a number of certifications or labels that tell us how ethical or sustainable a product is, but for most of us in the ethical fashion arena, we must police ourselves. So how do we do it? It’s crucial for companies or designers to have a list of internal criteria. As companies grow, the newest hire should be as dedicated to keeping things sustainable as the CEO.

Here are some of the guidelines that we use at the Andean Collection:

1. When faced with an eco and non-eco option, choose the eco option if you can afford it, but manage your cash flow responsibly.

At an early stage, you may not have the luxury of choosing the more expensive eco option every time, so do what you can without breaking the bank. As you grow, commit to doing more to make up for the decisions you had to forgo as a start-up.

2. If providing a social good means that you endanger the financial health of the company, do not do it.

If your business is thinking about doing a social good, but doing so will mean that you will not have enough cash to run your business, do not do it. If you spend your cash before you cover your operational costs, you will not be around to do more substantial good in the future, no matter what you have spent that money on.

3. On the other hand, if providing a social good means giving up some of the profits, consider doing it.

If your business is profitable and there is a social good you can do that will reduce your profits but won’t use up your entire operational cash flow, then consider doing it. Think about who needs those profits more: the business owners or the people who will benefit from the social project you are supporting. Most often it will be the latter.

4. Be transparent with your employees and artisans/manufacturers.

If you are working in a developing country, this is especially crucial. If you have a website, show it to the people who make your product and explain to them why the price disparity exists. Show them your blog and ask them to contribute. Teach them to use computers.

5. Be transparent with your customers. Don’t do anything you don’t want to blog about.

Growing up, my mother always told me, don’t do anything you don’t want your grandmother to know about. At the Andean Collection, we take that seriously. We blog about everything and pride ourselves on transparency.

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The Andean Collection, Amanda Judge, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, fair trade, fair-trade clothing, fair-trade fashion, fair-trade accessories, eco-friendly jewelry, sustainable jewelry, eco-friendly accessories, sustainable accessories, social responsibility, conscious consumption

CAUSE AND EFFECT

The original artisans that started working with us in 2008 have risen from poverty in a dramatically rapid fashion. When I met Olga, one of our lead artisans, she was living with no running water, one light bulb, no kitchen or bathroom, and her family of five was sleeping in one room together on straw mats. Now their family owns a car and they hire a cook so that Olga has more time to spend with her family and to work. Their children are in school thanks to the Andean Collection’s scholarship program. They’re also thinking about where to go to college, whereas their parents didn’t finish elementary school.

The original artisans that started working with us in 2008 have risen from poverty in a dramatically rapid fashion.

Our other artisans are seeing similar success and we are creating a plan for the newer 50-plus artisans to follow in their footsteps. The way we fulfill our mission is a focus on the following:

1. We provide our artisans with steady income, so that they can begin to think about the future instead of where the next meal is coming from. A crucial element in this commitment, is to design with our artisans’ skills in mind. We have to consider what they can make in accordance to shifting trends, even as we help them develop their skills to stay relevant. This also means filling our warehouse regularly, even if our sales are fluctuating, so that the workshops are not idle for long.

2. We provide business trainings so that they learn skills necessary to operate as contributing members of the economy. This way if they ever stop working with the Andean Collection, at least they’re equipped with skills that will leave them better off after working with us.

3. We provide trainings on fostering productive behavioral change, such as conflict resolution, nutrition and health, and safety, so that these changes are passed along to their children and to their neighbors.

4. We invest heavily for researching our supply chain. Currently, we are working with local academics to carry out a study that will further define what “sustainable harvesting” means and help us better understand the biology behind the natural materials we use.

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The Andean Collection, Amanda Judge, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, fair trade, fair-trade clothing, fair-trade fashion, fair-trade accessories, eco-friendly jewelry, sustainable jewelry, eco-friendly accessories, sustainable accessories, social responsibility, conscious consumption

MISSION STATEMENT

Once guidelines are set, it is imperative that companies define their mission and relate it clearly to the consumer. If done well, this will encourage the consumer to pay attention and become a social watch-guard for your mission, calling you back to it if you veer off. The Andean Collection’s mission is to bring families out of poverty while promoting forest growth in South America through the use of sustainably harvested natural materials.

We face many new challenges but our growth fortifies our ability to be more ethical and sustainable in our operations.

Now that our collection is available at over 2,000 locations worldwide, we face many new challenges, but mostly our growth fortifies our ability to be more ethical and sustainable in our operations. We now have the luxury to choose the more expensive option, and we now have profits to redistribute to our artisans and employees.

I don’t think that any agency will ever be able to properly standardize what “ethical” or “sustainable means”, but who says they have to? If we’re transparent, we answer to our customers. If they demand ethical practices, companies will deliver. The shift is happening; we just need to keep communication channels open.

+ The Andean Collection