• Pearl Buckley

Voting with Your Wallet: Are Any Brands Ethical?


Urban Outfitters, Santa Monica

Most of us believe we have some idea of where our clothing and food comes from, and most would like to reduce suffering in the world. That being said, there are so many popular companies that are so egregiously offensive that I find it hard to believe anybody shops there. I’m here to remind you that you can vote with your wallet, so to speak, and do your best to put an end to corporations that are running completely unchecked. This generation is frustrating corporations by paying attention to the source of their products and holding them accountable for things like blatant exploitation of workers in other countries, animal testing/cruelty, or bigotry. This is absolutely the right path; at the moment, corporations essentially dictate everything and I’m ready for that to stop.


What egregiously offensive things am I talking about? Well, let’s start with Urban Outfitters. The first I heard that the company is unethical (and what stopped me in the first place from shopping there) was a while back when someone told me that the organization was homophobic. It turns out they are. The CEO, founder, and president, Richard Hayne, donated $14,000 dollars to Rick Sanatorum, a man who notably compared homosexuality to bestiality. Awesome, right? Urban Outfitters seems vaguely progressive by appearance, and I do see pride gear there. This strikes me as offensively rainbow capitalist, for the money from pride merch to go to a blatantly homophobic man. One year they pulled a pride t-shirt off the shelves a whole one week after it was put in stores, due to “too much controversy.” (aka, one negative blog post. Yeah. Only one.) Talk about controversial, they have an almost impressive collection of t-shirts that are the antithesis of taste. They released a shirt that simply said “eat less,” which, as might be expected, offended eating disorder awareness groups, because it’s incredibly insensitive. As a person who struggles with self-image and eating, I hate that a shirt like that would ever make it to the shelves. They also released a number of products with Holocaust-y imagery, like a shirt with the star of David on it that looked remarkably like the armbands that Nazis made Jewish people wear, and a black and white striped shirt with a pink triangle on it that was exceedingly reminiscent of the armbands that Nazis made gay people wear. They released “Ghettopoly,” which is more or less just Monopoly but racist. I don’t believe I need to say more, despite there being a lot more to say about this morally reprehensible company. Despite all this, I see people flaunting Urban Outfitters apparel all the time, and I honestly don’t know whether it’s ignorance or apathy.


Another brand I see people buying from is Victoria’s Secret (/Pink). Obviously, I have huge issues with their portrayal of the ‘perfect’ female body. It’s really hard to love your own body when there’s a constant barrage of advertising and imagery directly targeting your self-esteem, and VS is such a perpetrator of negative body image that it’s almost hard to believe. Their fashion shows every year are inspiration for the eating disorder community, who watch it to drive themselves deeper into disordered eating. They market their homogenous, alarmingly skinny body type as perfect, when it’s not healthy or empowering, or even representative of the large variety of gorgeous and valid body types that don’t look like that. Besides all that, though, they use child labor and horrific animal testing for their perfumes, not to mention those awful transphobic comments they released.


Speaking of child labor, they’re not the only company that uses it. Guess what? Most of your chocolate comes from child labor. Brands like Nestle, Hershey’s and Mars are all offenders.

H&M, Forever 21, GAP, Nike, Zara, Urban Outfitters (of course), Adidas, Walmart, Aeropostale, Apple, and surprisingly enough, Disney, are all notable users of child labor. Beauty companies like Estee Lauder, Clinique, Makeup Forever, Maybelline, OPI, Avon and Benefit all use inhumane and unnecessary animal testing. There's a whole world of exploitation, particularly the exploitation of women, animals, and children, and you can trace so many of our everyday products to unethical practices like these.


Are ANY brands ethical? Where do I get my clothes? Well, thrift stores (except Salvation Army, shoutout to their long history of donating to antigay charities) are a good start. Often they donate part of the money to a good cause, and you’re not giving money to corporations that mass manufacture items in conditions cruel to workers or who test on animals by purchasing from them. If you’re buying makeup, there are a lot of helpful labels that tell you what’s cruelty-free and what isn’t. (And if you’re not sure, that information is a simple google search away.) Apps like Buycott, DoneGood, and the Orange Harp can help you avoid unethical purchases and support brands that are making a positive impact.


Everything I just said is a lot. I know. Obviously, I have purchased from some of these brands in my lifetime, even though now I do my best to shop only at thrift stores and identify the source of anything I buy. It’s really hard to be conscious of what you’re buying at all times, and nearly impossible to do perfectly. There’s no completely ethical consumption under capitalism, but you can definitely reduce your impact. I understand why you may not have known these things, or at least not paid much attention to them, but now that you know, all I ask of you is that you start paying more attention to where your money is going when you purchase something. Our money has a bigger impact on the world around us than we think, and I think it is vital to recognize that and use that power for good.