Ethical Shopping 101: How To Shop For V.A.L.U.E.

by Gelaine Santiago July 25, 2016

Ethical Shopping 101: How To Shop For V.A.L.U.E.

I just finished reading Kate Black’s book Magnifeco: Your Head-To-Toe Guide To Ethical Fashion And Non-Toxic Beauty. It’s so jam-packed with resources that my head would spin every time I put the book down.

What I love about Magnifeco is that it gives an in-depth overview of the issues surrounding our everyday products (from toxic chemicals in our sanitary products and clothing, to serious environmental problems and human rights violations in the creation of our jewelry and fabrics). It’s all quite mind-boggling and easy to get caught up in the negativity. But what I love about Kate Black is that she isn’t judgemental or lecturing – she doesn’t focus on what you shouldn’t buy. She focuses on empowering you by helping you identify brands and products that match your lifestyle and values. As founder of a shop for socially responsible products, I’m totally down with that.

So let’s say you’re out there shopping for a new pair of jeans or a tube of lipstick. How do you determine whether this item matches your ethics or not? The key, as Ms. Black puts it, is to shop for V.A.L.U.E.

V.A.L.U.E. is an acronym Ms. Black created to help you buy better. The key questions are:

“Does it already exist (Vintage)? Does it support craft, empower women or alleviate poverty (Artisan)? Does it serve my community (Local)? Does it save something from the landfill (Upcycled)? Lastly, is it Ethical?” (Source: MAGNIFECO, page 78)

I love this acronym. I try my best to shop consciously, but it’s so easy to get bogged down and confused with all the misinformation out there (there is SO much of it!). Since I discovered this acronym, I’ve been able to make better informed shopping decisions (but I definitely mess up every once in a while!). Even better, I was super happy to see that Cambio Market’s products fit so well within this V.A.L.U.E. framework (hurrah!). Here’s a quick overview of each principle represented within each letter of V.A.L.U.E. and what that might look like.

1. V is for Vintage: Ask “Does it already exist?”

In Magnifeco, vintage includes old items that are at least 20 years old, but also includes thrift, resale, secondhand, or preloved products. Vintage sales have really grown in the last decade, and for good reason. If you’re browsing the clothing aisles and feeling disappointed with the cheap feel of the fabrics, thinking to yourself, “they used to make things better”, you’re not wrong. Clothing isn’t made like it used to be, and how could it? Today’s fast fashion retailers like H&M and Zara are producing more clothing than ever before, creating millions of garments per year. Their business model depends on producing as much clothing as they can, as cheaply as they can. When you’re focused on volume instead of quality, you end up with sub-par products that easily fall apart (which is probably why the amount of clothing that ends up in landfills has been steadily growing). By purchasing items secondhand, you reduce landfill waste, save money, and can also focus on finding products that match your personal sense of style rather than the trend-of-the-day outfits you see in the malls.

Our Cambio Market pick: Vintage and upcycled pillow covers from TI’XAR
Vintage and upcycled pillow covers from TI’XAR
These are made from vintage huipils, a traditional women’s blouse from Guatemala, which have been transformed into pillow covers. The covers are handsewn and upcycled by a small sewing family in La Antigua.

2. A is for Artisan: Does it support craft, empower women or alleviate poverty?

Supporting artisans means buying products that provide fair livelihood to skilled craftspeople, usually women. Ask yourself: does this item promote fair trade principles? Were the artisans paid proportionally to their time, their skill, and the real value of the product in the market?

In the context of developing countries, independent artisans (especially indigenous artisans) are often targets for abuse and exploitation. When we went to Philippines earlier this year, we saw handcrafted and artisan products everywhere, but they were often sold at extremely low prices and undervalued. As a result, many artisan communities live in poverty and risk losing their cultural identities. Because of the lack of solid employment in their home communities, many indigenous youth leave to find work in the big cities. Buying artisan-made and fair trade products can help provide stable income and preserve indigenous cultures at the same time. 

Our Cambio Market pick: Handwoven weekender bags by AKABA

Handwoven weekender bags by AKABA
AKABA works with co-operatives in the Philippines to train and employ indigenous artisans in vulnerable communities. Each bag is handwoven using traditional looming techniques and provides dignified work to the artisan.

3. L is for Local: Does it serve my community?

When you buy products from local businesses, you’re not just helping one specific business or one business owner – you’re actually helping an entire community. Local businesses are more likely to support other small businesses and use one another’s services, like how Cambio Market uses Options Mississauga for our printing needs. They also create local jobs and can provide services that cater to their specific neighbourhood’s or community’s needs.

Our Cambio Market pick: Sustainably made wooden jewelry & décor by Jennifer Rong
Sustainably made wooden jewelry & décor by Jennifer Rong
Jennifer Rong is an indie designer and woodworker in Toronto. She uses reclaimed wood and sustainably sourced materials that she's found around the city. For example, the earrings pictured here are made from real alder cones!

4. U is for Upcycled: Does it save something from the landfill?

Everyone’s heard of recycling, but few people know about upcycling. Upcycling involves taking an item that’s perceived to have little value (like a used T-shirt) and using it to create something new of equal or higher value (like jewelry). Although you can recycle your clothes, recycling itself is actually an energy-intensive process that uses chemicals and resources like water. If you can upcycle something, it’s always better because it’s more eco-friendly and brings an item back to the top of the product lifecycle. By giving an item new life, it delays (or altogether prevents) it from going to the landfill.

Our Cambio Market pick: Upcycled jewellery from Olivia & Diego
Upcycled jewellery from Olivia & Diego
Olivia & Diego sources T-shirts from thrift shops in the Philippines and turns them into colourful jewellery. They also employ women from vulnerable communities and work with non-profit groups to produce their pieces.

5. E is for Ethical: Is it ethically made? 

The word “ethical” is a broad and subjective word that has many other terms (and preconceived notions) attached to it. In Magnifeco, Kate Black defines ethical as products made with the cruelty-free treatment of animals (this could be vegan or not), ethical and fair labour practices, and/or positive environmental practices (essentially good for animals, people, and/or planet). The practice of one doesn’t automatically mean the other, so it’s important you know your own values and what’s important to you.

Our Cambio Market pick: Handwoven JanJan clutch by VESTI

Handwoven JanJan clutch by VESTI
This JanJan clutch by VESTI, a grassroots and ethical business in the Philippines, combines denim fabric with handwoven and natural materials. The material was woven by indigenous artisans using traditional techniques and naturally dyed using locally sourced flowers and plants. VESTI pays their artisans above-market wages and provides dignified work to people in low-income communities.

It’s rare that you’ll come across a product that meets all the V.A.L.U.E. criteria, and that’s really not the point (unless you want it to be). Shopping for V.A.L.U.E. means buying products that fit your values. Use this acronym to help you understand what principles are most important to you, and then judge your products based on your ethics – not anyone else’s. Only then will you truly be magnifeco!

Learn more about Magnifeco or shop our full collection of handmade and ethical products

Gelaine Santiago
Gelaine Santiago


Gelaine is co-founder of Cambio Market – an online shop for handcrafted, ethical products that give back. She's also co-founder of ChooseSocial.PH – the go-to resource to learn about the social enterprise scene in the Philippines. She's pretty nerdy and loves to talk about all things social enterprises, careers, entrepreneurship, travel, start-ups, and (of course) food.

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