Back to School Shopping

ethical shoe brands


Back to school shopping can be bittersweet as it is both exciting and nerve-wracking for parents and students alike. No matter where you stand with your feelings on back to school, chances are that you have an extensive list of notebooks, clothes, accessories, and groceries that align in your journey back to school. With this season necessitating so many purchases, we began to wonder how to go about this in a socially-conscious way. While it’s nearly impossible to buy all that you need and know every detail of its supply chain, we have a few tips for how to make small changes in your shopping that are both affordable and effective for back to school.

1.       Thrift Shops

What better way to recycle than to scour your local thrift store before your local everything-store or shopping mall for clothes and household items. According to the, more than 15 million tons of textile waste are produced in the US every single year. I think that our culture is very ready to buy in bulk and get-rid-of-fast.  This is valid because we naturally change styles, phases of life, and sizes, but what would it look like for us to take care of what we have well, actively donate things when we don’t need them anymore, and consider making just a handful of our update purchases second-hand? Okay tangent over, back to back to school. Fun fact, the best way to follow the oversized sweater trend is to buy Giant sweaters at goodwill for $5.99 (they’ll be your favorite).

2.       Seek a favorite-affordable-ethical brand

I recently discovered a cotton retail brand called Pact Organic.  They sell cotton essentials for the entire family and they’re so affordable and quality!  This brand’s products are made fair-trade in India as well as made with organic cotton.  I placed an order for a couple of these ethical shirts on sale for about $9 a piece with free shipping which is Target prices if not lower. I feel like there is a stigma that all ethical brands are really expensive, but they have sales and promotions just like regular retail brands. I think that also as increasing consumers show demand for products that aren’t damaging to people and the planet, more mainstream companies will take steps to be more ethical.  I think there is also something to be say for quality-over-quantity—think quality of life for the laborer over the quantity of different t-shirts we own.

3.       Choose a few items and start from there

For me as a college student, it could definitely be unrealistic budget (and time) wise to buy fair-trade-organic-completely wholesome items for every single need on my grocery list. I’m sure it’s equally challenging for moms packing school lunches and honestly most people in general.  I think that we can only do our best in this regard. I like to challenge myself to buy a handful of more socially-conscious items at a time and try new and different things.  Maybe this just means buying fair-trade bananas for a given week and that’s it. It’s small, but over time Ithink we can train ourselves to add more socially-conscious items gradually and cost-effectively.

4.       Treat yourself and then restrict yourself

Are you wanting to splurge on a socially conscious backpack from Patagonia or Everlane ?  Make that purchase, take care of it, and spend less on the extras.

5.       How to spend less on the extras?

Disclaimer: I may be the only person for whom this isn’t super obvious, but use notebooks, pens, folders, and other office/school supplies to their full potential. I get into the habit of buying new everything at the beginning of a semester even when its unnecessary and wasteful.  I recently found myself on a Walmart isle looking to buy fresh five-star notebooks for each class when I realized I had barely half-filled mine from last semester.  This was bringing clutter into my life, waste, and caused me to spend extra unnecessarily.  By not spending on those things you don’t need, you can turn in invest in that larger socially-conscious item you may want.

6.       Don’t feel like you need to get rid of what you already own if it isn’t as socially conscious as you’d like it to be

I feel like many of us who are seeking to be more socially conscious in our purchases want to replace everything right away with ethical products, but I think it’s also important not to waste what we currently have.  Wait for what you own to be used to its fullest, and then research a more ethical alternative when it is actually a need for you if you so choose.

Best of luck to all the parents and college students adjusting to the school life in these coming weeks. Hopefully these tips are practical and realistic for you. So many of us are on tight budgets and I think its super important for people not to feel shameful if not all of their purchases are perfectly ethical.  Also, no one should feel judged if they love and choose to purchase something that isn’t. I believe that small steps are the answer for many of us to make a difference and it is my hope that eventually we will see ethical changes in our mainstream marketplace.