Candela NYC Dress from ASOS on left, $130.58 USD. Xenia Boutique Dress from ASOS Marketplace on right, $40.99 USD.

After reading a Huff Post article called The Myth of the Ethical Shopper over the weekend, I’ve felt challenged to fully research where my clothes come from, as well as disturbed that perhaps it’s impossible to be a conscious fashionista. But in the end I’m left exactly where I started: in finding more sustainable style options for you and me.

Which brings me to ASOS.

Switch ASOS

I know you love ASOS, and it’s no secret why: they always deliver the latest trends. Whether it’s through their own brands or curated brands such as River Island, Adidas and Free People, they’re an online favourite with tons of fashionistas.

And why shouldn’t you love ASOS, right? I mean, after all, they have a massive page outlining their responsibilities within the larger frame of the fashion industry — an industry that can be harmful to workers, consumers, and the environment.

And reading their ethical commitments gives you the warm fuzzies, doesn’t it? Fortunately for you and me, I’m not interested in warm fuzzies. I love fashion, and I want it to be truly ethical.

So what’s wrong with ASOS’ ethics statement? Aren’t they doing the best they can to ensure that the fashion they sell is harmless?

Besides being an online fashion marketplace selling numerous brands whose ethics they can’t control, ASOS is a publicly-traded company. And you know this is the part of the post when I rag on corporations. The fact is, when a company goes from being private to publicly-traded, the structure of its governance changes.

Unlike small businesses, which can live or die by a consumer review, corporations are behold not to their consumers but to their stockholders. There are only three bodies that can force a corporation to be ethical: its investors, its board of directors, and the governments of the countries in which it operates. Corporations will always get away with as much or as little as they are legally allowed to in the jurisdictions in which they operate, all the while putting a happy face on their consumer-facing marketing so that we’re none the wiser.

And as The Myth of the Ethical Shopper makes clear, the last of these controlling bodies is where private citizens can make the difference through votes, pressuring elected representatives, and lobbying. Protesting and boycotting corporations No Logo Style, the article insists, does nothing but add more paperwork to the process of obtaining unethical, often imported goods and to add another level to corporate supply chains so that a company like Adidas has no idea who made its products.

And so how can ASOS promise us, as consumers, ethical fashions?

For ASOS Marketplace

One point that I think the Myth of the Ethical Shopper article misses out on is that there’s a type of consumer who is purchasing fast fashions, is interested in style and trends, and may be open to a more ethical approach. And that person may be a 15 year old girl (as I once was) who can’t vote and whose voting parents may be conservative-leaning. And so they’re duped by ‘conservative’ candidates to be supportive of companies who import goods through sprawling supply chains that start in slave labour and end in crazy marked-up craptacular goods…because somehow that’s better for the economy??!!

In reality, knowing how corporate lobbists work, I’m sure the thought processes of those political candidates and representatives are more along the lines of “dollar dollar bills!” But where does all this leave our 15 year old?

As a former 15 year old girl, I’m positive that a burgeoning interest in politics may be on the horizon, but in the here and now what’s most important is expressing one’s identity through style.

And since corporations that have investors don’t die by a bad consumer review, and will endlessly adjust their lip-servicey ethics statements to win profits, there’s one way a kid (or adult like me) with a couple bucks in her pocket and a penchant for the latest trends can do: hit ’em where it hurts.

Sure, the main ASOS website carries some brands like American Apparel which arguably may be ethical or sustainable brands. But ASOS will keep delivering fast, unsustainable fashions on their main site until that site is no longer profitable.

So, controversy aside, it’s best to switch your buying habits to ASOS Marketplace, their site that carries vintage clothing and independent designers through the platform of online boutiques.

A Word of Warning

As vintage becomes more and more popular (since resale is the single most sustainable way to buy fashions), there’s always a danger that you could get scammed. But unlike sprawling corporations, these boutiques have to build trust with their customers to be successful. So as with buying anything online, pay attention to reviews.

The real danger of ASOS Marketplace is that like Etsy, it can be a little bit of a wild west. Some sellers of new garments may be highly ethical, some — not so much. But the reason why I’ll pick ASOS Marketplace over ASOS any day of the week is that like Etsy, you can easily ask the designer any questions you like. They even have an envelope icon for it!

And unlike a company such as Adidas, who may have no idea which sub-sub-sub-sub-contractor made what and in which conditions, an independent will know their suppliers, especially if they’ve designed the clothes, made them, and ordered the fabrics themselves.

And bonus points: Apparently ASOS Marketplace is 100% fur-free!

So what do you think about The Myth of the Ethical Shopper? As a blogger who loves fashion and advocates changing our shopping habits, it definitely rattled me. Do you think I’m totally off base? Can we change the world through shopping — or is looking for trend-savvy, ethical alternatives wrong-headed, and a losing battle? I’d love to hear from you!

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