Don’t get me wrong. I do love bunnies. I do love artisans. I do love the earth. I do love people (for the most part). But the Ethical Marketing Machine? Not so much.
I used to be a big fan. I used to believe that by consuming sustainable/ethically sourced products, we could change the earth. After a good 40 years of this (it all started, slowly, in the ’60s) there may be some evidence that it’s moved the needle slightly, more in food than in any other category; maybe in packaging; and possibly – slowly – in clothing, though I’m not so sure that 10 years out from Rana Plaza there won’t be another sweatshop fire in Myanmar or Mongolia or East LA, or wherever cheap production has moved to by then.
But at the end of the day, the Ethical Marketing Machine (and I exclude food from this category for lots of reasons), is only slightly better than the Commercial Marketing Machine that flogs electronic gadgets, McDonalds and Pepsi. They’re still just selling stuff, stoking the kind of consumption that’s really at the root of the lack of many of our ills.
Because what they’re selling is often (not always, mind) a feel-better / d0-better version of stuff you may not really want. And even more often, it’s stuff you don’t need. In may ways, it’s worse than the Commercial Marketing Machine or the Stuff Industrial Complex: it takes advantage of our human desire to do good, and that’s truly cynical.
That doesn’t mean that we should stop consuming at all. In fact, it really is our duty (shocking).
Where we can without getting us into debt, we actually have a responsibility to consume: it creates jobs and livelihoods. It creates economic enrichment to our communities. It connects people, countries. It can even prevent wars (or at least that’s the theory behind that slightly shaky construct called the European Union.)
And it serves a functional need. It can be (though not as often as it should be) fun (and even better) a real joy, stimulating the senses, the imagination, the intellect. It can give us pleasure.
But we need to consume well. And being an ethical consumer doesn’t mean buying the table/cushion/candle/sweater/rug/pair of earrings you don’t really love. (Thinking something is “interesting”, or “cool” or “cute” or “useful” doesn’t count. Only love counts.
Love does not mean feeling sorry for the people who are making the item. Love doesn’t mean buying into the story. It doesn’t mean buying stuff by artisans if you don’t need the sweater or dress. It doesn’t come only from knowing what factory it was created in or that the cost structure is “transparent”. It doesn’t mean buying another pair of Nike or Adidas sneaks because it’s made from ocean waste if I don’t really need another pair of sneaks (it was actually this article that set me off on this tangent).
Love means feeling that seizing of your gut, that tingling in your loins, that sense of wonder, that sense of connectedness at a spiritual level. That first instinct, that first connection, is an emotional thing, not an intellectual thing. Settle for nothing less.
Of course consuming well is about buying and living in a way that harms people and the environment as little as possible.
But being an ethical consumer is also about being utterly ruthless. It’s about buying only what we will keep, care for, mend, invest in over time, and most importantly, absolutely love. If it’s clothing, we need to love it. And (if this is what you want) it needs to make you look hot. The thing you’re buying for your house needs to bring it to life, to make it sizzle, make you smile everytime you walk into your space. It’s about what gives us true pleasure. That is living well. That is living ethically.
What would your home, your closet, your home, your LIFE look like if you surrounded yourself with only things that you truly loved, whatever the story? What would the world be like if we all did the same?
Spacious. Beautiful. Good. And quintessentially you.