6 Words You Must Learn to be an Ethical Shopper

If you have taken my gut check survey to test your Ethical Shopper knowledge but found the language confusing, don't fret. Have you seen these words before on your favorite brand's Instagram? Or have even USED these words without fully knowing the meaning? That is pretty standard for the average consumer.

Honestly, when I started out, I used most of these phrases interchangeably.

Why is it so confusing?

This is due to large brands and companies noticing these concepts on trend and wanting to jump on the band wagon to make a quick buck.

There are many brands who do practice what they preach. It is worth celebrating them by understanding exactly what they look for when they partner with suppliers for their products.

Learn the lingo

Here are the top 6 words and phrases that are often misunderstood by the general public when it comes to ethical shopping.

These are some of the more general terms to start off slow and make the overall topic more digestible.

Please note these are my definitions based on my research, experience, and knowledge working in the industry so you may have a definition that is slightly different.

Overall the concepts should be universal and as always my content is meant to educate and expand the various ethical fashion movements.

Even if these are things you already know, there is some helpful insight below to make you even MORE ahead of the curve!


6 Words You Must Learn to be an Ethical Shopper


1. Ethical Fashion

Seems logical to start here to truly become an ethical shopper!

Ethical Fashion is a blanket term to describe several movements within the fashion industry. The ethics of a brand can be called to question at any point in the design, production, and delivery of a product in order to be considered ethical. 

Fair Trade, Organic,  Zero Waste, etc. are all concepts that shoppers are now considering before they hand over their credit cards at check out. There are now +100s subgroups for even these terms

No wonder this is so confusing!

Bonus Term: Ethical Shopper

Because of this, my reference to an ethical shopper can be interpreted a number of ways due to the many definitions of the word ethical itself.

As such, I'm adding a BONUS definition right off the top! My definition of an Ethical Shopper is any consumer that considers the benefits and repercussion of their purchases on the environment, society, and culture.


2. Fair trade

This may be the easiest one the list to define, because The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) has already done it for us! The WFTO defines Fair Trade as "trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade.

It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers."

The challenge with fair trade is when it is put into practice. Producers and brands continue to work on accurate measuring  tools and indicators to ensure the principles of Fair Trade are being upheld.

Overall, Fair trade aims to improve the labor conditions AND quality of life for workers in production and farming supply chains.

3. Fair wage 

Honestly this is a pretty big concept to sum up in just a few sentences. Even the WFTO debates to this day what an acceptable definition for a fair wage should be across the board.

To strip it down to its bare bones, Merriam-Webster defines fair wage as "a wage that is reasonable for the type of work done." Well isn't that just wildly vague and incredibly subjective...

The idea of a fair wage is based on what an individual should make to support themselves or a family on a consistent basis .

This seems simple enough, but when discussing the nature of cottage industry production for instance, it can be a bit challenging to measure and monitor.

Even still, companies are working to create their own forms of monitoring to ensure all individuals in the supply chain are paid a fair wage to thrive.

As we move along, we will see other terms that this often gets confused with like minimum wage and livable wage. (And the term cottage industry deserves its own post altogether. ;) )

4. Artisan

Artisan refers to individuals that actually produce a product. Artisans can work in various industries such as home goods, decor, clothing etc.

There are also hundreds of mediums artisans can work in which include but are not limited to textiles, printing, woodwork, fine arts, etc.

5. Hand Crafted/ Handmade

This term is one of the more self explanatory - hand crafted simply means a craft that is largely produced by a skilled artisan.

It may be surprising to learn that handmade products can have some machine made materials.

Overall, the assembly will be done by hand by an artisan. Examples of this would be a bracelet made of machine made seed beads, or a hand woven scarf made with synthetic dyed thread.

6. Traditional Craft

Traditional crafts are defined as handcrafted products with a functional use. The techniques involved to make such items can be simple or complex.

The work can involve an individual or a community of skilled artisans. For these crafts, the methods of production have been preserved for sometimes thousands of years with little intervention from modern technology.

When I think of traditional crafts, my mind immediately goes to scenes from The Lord of the Rings where swords are being smelted, but it doesn't have to be that serious.

Wood and bone inlay, block printing, even hand embroidery are examples of traditional crafts that many generations have sustained the original methods of creation.

How do you feel about these terms and definitions? Do you define any of these differently?

Have you nailed these terms? Great! You are ready to grab your purse and get to shopping!  Check out this post for tips to help you to become an ethical shopper today!

What more definitions? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Shopping!