HAVE you heard of ethically sourced, fair trade products? Conflict free diamonds? Or cruelty free makeup? Consumers have been using boycotts and flexing their purchase power for years to achieve change and force political transformation.

Behind this seemingly modern movement of ethical consumption lies India’s forward-thinking Bapu who touted the ideals of homespun clothing and Indian-made goods long before it was popular.

However, we’re happy to report that this trend is once again on the rise within India’s own growing market, despite its drift towards mass consumerism with the jump in the “elite” and “affluent” households eager to exploit their new spending power.

Ethical consumerism “is about buying products and services that are made and distributed under ethical conditions by companies that behave in an ethical and socially responsible manner”.

Earlier, consumers concerned with how the product was made and by whom were considered a niche market that wasn’t worth targeting. However, studies show that this trend has grown enormously in the last decade – jumping 13% around the world in just the last year – with belief-driven buyers now dominating global markets.

Thank you, millennials!

This is in part due to the consumers in the 18–34 age group. As a result of their inquisitive nature and strong sense of purpose, they are pushing corporations out of the status quo of unsustainable production practices and trends, such as “fast fashion”, and redefining what it means to be an “ethical consumer”.

Not satisfied with just lip service from their favourite brands, consumers are more and more gravitating towards companies that fit within their social or political world views.

69% of millennials will buy or boycott a brand solely because of its position on a social or political issue. Young people are also more likely to pay more for sustainable brands – letting their spending doing the talking.

Artisans lead the way

Studies show that 65% of consumers in emerging markets actively seek out sustainable fashion versus 32% or lower in mature markets – India ranked even higher at 78%.

This shift in values has hit the Indian economy in a big way. The fashion industry as a whole is working to empower crafters.

Once a revered vocation, hand-looming has become a profession focused on mass production and exploiting labourers rather than developing the weavers’ business skills. The Handloom School strives to change that by teaching young people not only the craft but also the skills needed to run a successful business: design, languages, technology, business development and sustainability. They aim to produce expert craftsmen who are empowered to use their skills to target high-fashion, upmarket clients.

Gaurav Jai Gupta and Rahul Mishra are two Delhi designers embracing this movement by pushing for a revival of traditional textiles and embroidery with a modern twist. Gupta works closely with The Handloom School to produce his lines. With his embroidery production, Mishra has helped start a reverse migration that keeps families together in their villages working in better conditions than they are forced into urban slums.

The Rajasthan Heritage Week is another initiative focussed on empowering weavers, with fashion designers working alongside them and using khadi and other hand-woven fabrics to produce their collections which are showcased during the week. (The picture above is part of one such collection).

At the other end of the supply chain, retailers are also refocusing their lines to provide organic and ethically sourced goods for their customers.

India-based boutique, Good Earth, invites students from The Handloom School to intern with them. Fabindia works with 55,000 artisans to produce their fabrics and has embraced the shift towards organic products with their food line. Ethicus, a Chennai retailer, uses a farm-to-market approach to supply their handwoven, organic cotton saris to buyers.

However, it’s not just the artisanal industries making this shift. You can now find eco- and health-friendly options for nearly any product, such as paints, refrigerators, LED lights, automobiles, and more.

  • Want to be a more ethical consumer? Here are some things to look for in a brand:
  • Natural, pure ingredients
  • Ethical sourcing chains from production to distribution
  • Clear nutritional information
  • Transparency
  • Fair labour
  • Honouring human rights
  • Protecting human health
  • Respecting the environment
  • Sustainable practices
  • Ethical marketing and advertising
  • Renewable/recyclable packaging
  • Corporate social responsibility – do they give back to the communities in which they work and society?

– by Micah Branaman Sharma 

Picture credit: Tara McManus

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