& some ways to buy more sustainably without participating in human rights violations, brought to you by the Ginch (me)
Clothing is the second biggest polluter after the oil industry. One cotton t-shirt uses 2,500 liters of water. It’s estimated 1% of clothing is actually recycled, and 87% of what is produced every year ends up in a landfill that same year.
Instead of buying that gift, here are 8 other ways to use your time and money:
Figure out where that product was made, by who, and what they’re paid. Truth is, more expensive things tend to (but not always) mean that people who make that product are being paid. If you can get a nice set of outdoor clothes delivered right to your door at a low price point, it’s because someone, somewhere isn’t being paid. It is unsurprisingly extremely hard to find out just using the internet which factories where are manufacturing your gear, particularly when that gear comes from outside of the United States.
Buy made in America. Buying gear that was made overseas pretty much guarantees someone was not paid minimum wage. The entire reason that companies choose to produce overseas is because it’s far cheaper and easier to underpay foreign laborers than it is people in the US. Also consider than when a product is made overseas it then has to be shipped to America, creating an ✨even larger✨ carbon footprint.
Here’s a quick list of outdoor gear you can find that was made in America in the Duluth Area:
Frost River waxed canvas bags
Buy used. Like any other industry, the outdoor gear industry thrives on convincing you, the consumer, that you need a new piece of gear. There are plenty of places to find gently used gear out there. Used gear is not only cost you less, but prevents perfectly good gear from ending up in the trash can and decreases demand for new gear, thus lessening environmental impact.
Thrift stores are a great place to look for outdoor clothing, especially if you know what brands to look for. I’ve found Arc’teryx, Ibex, North Face, and more in Thrift Stores for single digit prices. I also recommend checking out places like Duluth Gear Exchange. Consider investing in an REI membership for access to their used gear selection. Between REI used gear, local used shops, and gifted gear from brands (thank you reader for being here because you are the reason outdoor brands think I deserve new winter boots without paying for them!), I haven’t actually bought a new piece of gear in a very long time.
Learn about Greenwashing. Greenwashing is a marketing tactic often employed by outdoor retailers that basically is the use of pro-environment rhetoric to convince consumers that it is actually environmentally friendly to purchase their product. Personally I am skeptic of any brand that relies heavily on these marketing tactics in order to sell you something— buying something you don’t need and won’t use is still less environmentally friendly than using what you already have, buying used, or gifting handmade. Brands care about making sales first; the environment second.
Specifically, Greenwashing looks like…
Use of buzzwords like “eco-friendly”, “all natural” or “authentic” without specifying what steps are actually taken
Lack of third party certifications such as fair trade
There is no tangible transparency in where and how products are sourced, produced and transported
No way to verify claims made about their production process, and no one who will answer questions
Check out this article on identifying Greenwashing for more.
On the other hand, there are a few green flags that indicate a company isn’t Greenwashing…
They offer a lifetime warranty or repairs. A lifetime warranty shows a brand will bet on its products longevity and isn’t making something designed to be replaced. Either repair/care instructions or a way to send in your gear for repairs indicates the same: the brand stands by the quality of their product and would rather it last you years than have you buy a new one.
They share detailed information about where and how products are made and how those products get to you as a consumer. Patagonia is a really good example of a company that has full transparency laid out on their website.
They have third party certifications such as fair trade or climate neutral or can otherwise answer where their product is sourced and how everyone involved in production is paid fairly (think Duluth Coffee Company who works directly with farmers).
They sell used gear on their site.
Consider paying more for a product that will last longer. I know, we look at the price tag on a Patagonia puffy, or RAB pants, and cringe. But truth is that if you buy a $300 puffy that will last you the next five years rather than $150 puffy that will need to be replaced every winter for the next five years, you’ve not only saved money in the long run but reduced your own textile waste. Again very generally speaking, higher prices tend to account for fair compensation of labor, so it really is just all around better to spend more money the first time if at all possible (and if not possible, shop used! So, so many wealthy people discard perfectly good gear ripe for the picking all the time).
Buy handmade! A very easy way to ensure that the person or people who made your gear are paid fairly for their labor is to buy handmade from an artist or craftsman.
Choose Wool. Wool takes less energy to produce than synthetics— it’s naturally occurring and completely biodegradable. Wool insulates better than just about any other material and stays warm even when wet. Not convinced? Check out this article by Outdoor Gear Exchange on why wool is simply the best.
Gift a Hello Stranger Subscription. That’s right, a shameless self plug. Betcha never expected that from me. Non-material gifts like subscriptions don’t come with the same kind of carbon footprint that physical products do. Gifting a subscription to this little blog which comes with access to eBooks Exploring the North Shore, Hidden Gems of the Northern Great Lakes, and Exploring Michigan as well as access to a backlog of exclusive content.
Supporting independent writers, craftsmen, and artists helps support the dream of a world in which people are compensated fairly, always, for their labor.
hand knit wool mittens I finished last night
However you choose to spend or not to spend your shopping dollars this season, I hope you have a very happy Thanksgiving and enjoy some chilly weather very soon.
If you have any local artists/craftsman you’d like to support this winter, share their website in the comments below!