The Journey of an Ethical Shopper

This week we reached out to ethical blogger and all-around savvy shopper, Leah Wise.  When she realized her insatiable need for stuff was fueling a broken system that preys on the desperate in developing countries and delays any attempt at sustainable infrastructure, she knew she needed a community to grow with, a group of like-minded people who can share their journeys, their wisdom, and their favorite ethical brands. Style Wise became that important avenue for sharing what she’s learned and discussing what she struggles with.  We can’t thank Leah enough for taking the time to share her insights with AMERICAN NOMAD.



Buying fair trade is a noble goal, but I know firsthand how difficult it can be to pull out of fast fashion when you’ve gotten used to deep discounts and flash sales. Sales cycles are set up to foster addiction to cheap goods and to encourage near constant buying, and they’re effective.

I spent most of my childhood bargain hunting with my mom and grandma and I loved to tell people how little I spent on my clothing and accessories. When my local mall got a Forever 21, I hit it up nearly every week, leaving with an armful of paper-thin t-shirts and $2.00 earrings. And it wasn’t just the fun of getting new things that drove me to the mall again and again. I used shopping as therapy to numb the pain of insecurities, bad grades, and complicated relationships.

Realizing that about myself was difficult, but it forced me to really consider my consumer habits for the first time. I’d like to tell you that I started shopping ethically for the good of the planet, but the truth is that I did it, at first, for myself. My incessant need to consume was tearing me apart. But being forced to consider my purchases naturally led me to the question, “Who made this?” and that set me down the path I’m still on today.

As it turns out, buying tons of cheap goods doesn’t just affect me, it affects thousands of people working in the manufacturing industry around the world. While some make paltry wages that effectively enslave them to their work, others are literally slaves. Large corporations rely on cheap labor, so they seek out regions with growing populations and few jobs, where people are willing to work for nearly nothing in the hopes of merely surviving, where people are more easily deceived into signing false contracts that chain them to a life of factory production.

The good news is that we get to make choices that impact our brothers and sisters around the world. We can lobby for better wages, we can tell corporations we need supply chain transparency, and we can immediately begin to buy goods that provide living wages to the producers.

I started my ethical purchasing journey with accessories. Accessories, unlike clothes, are things you’ll likely keep for decades. They’re versatile and aren’t as likely to wear out with multiple wears. And smaller items, like earrings, are a bit less expensive than ethical garments, so they’re easier to fit into your budget while you explore the best ways to become a more conscientious consumer.

While I  purchase a lot of my clothes at thrift shops, I try to buy all of my jewelry fair trade. It’s easy to find beautiful things that suit my style at prices I can afford.

I’ve also committed to buying my purses and bags from fair trade companies. While they’re certainly investment pieces, it just makes sense to seek out well made, artisan produced, fair trade bags that will last me a long time and add interest my wardrobe. I saved up for a fair trade bag produced by Zapotec (Indigenous people of Mexico) artisans and it was well worth it for the durability and the constant compliments. Plus, anytime someone comments on it, I can tell them exactly who made it and what type of wage they received.

It’s satisfying to know that what I buy has a story to tell and that I can share that story with others. Instead of simply bragging about bargains, I get to share the story of people and the way we’re connected through goods. Shopping this way also reminds me that I am more than what I buy, because it emphasizes that people have meaning and depth, and that a better world can only be realized when we begin to cherish one another.

Thanks for having me, AMERICAN NOMAD. You can learn more about fair trade on my blog, Style Wise.