For years I’ve been very conscious of my food choices — eating less and better meat (and going through periods of vegetarianism), buying local foods, and supporting small farmers. But it really wasn’t until I started developing and growing my sustainable children’s apparel business that I moved towards becoming a more conscious consumer of fashion. Since expanding my conscious consumption to include fashion and beauty, I’ve learned a lot, and much of what I’ve learned impacts how I parent.
Here are four ways being a conscious consumer has made me a better parent (and one way my kids have made me a better consumer.)
- The difference between a want and a need. Like many folks out there, I enjoy staying current with fashion. And when pressured by fast fashion influences, I often feel like something I want is really something I need. As I’ve slowed down and reflected on my purchases, I’ve become better able to determine when there’s something I truly need. This lesson, when articulated to kids, helps them slow down their demands and assess whether they really need something.
- The gifts of natural beauty. I love a good manicure or pedicure — the feeling of soaking your hands or feet in warm water and having someone care for you is wonderful. But as a busy parent, I always found that my nails chipped within a few days and it just didn’t seem worth it. As I’ve tried to reduce the chemicals I put on my skin (and avoid supporting nail salons that thrive to the detriment of their workers), I’ve found that I love the natural color and shape of nails. No, they don’t always look perfect. But there is beauty in that imperfection. I’m not ruling out the pedicure treat before a vacation, but I value the simplicity of unvarnished nails. How does this reflect on parenting? Perhaps it is a stretch, but I love that it shows my sons that we don’t have to adorn ourselves. That we can accept the beauty of how our bodies were created. And if we want to go ahead and paint nails, then it is a treat that is sought on our own terms — not some societal norm that beauty is manicured (quite literally).
- The importance of articulating a choice. Of the myriad choices we make in our daily lives, we don’t communicate most of them to our kids. But our children are watching and assessing every choice we make, regardless of whether we stop to explain it to them. Why not share some of your thinking along the way? For example, my older son has recently become an intense soccer fan, and was thrilled to join his first neighborhood team. Every article of clothing he “needed” was made from polyester — a synthetic fibre that we try to avoid due to its petro-chemical base and the shedding of microfibres into waterways. As we got him geared up, I could see a future with lots of synthetic clothes that don’t fit with our family values. So I talked with my son about this. We agreed that we should keep these purchases limited to what he needs for practice and games, and that we wouldn’t change his wardrobe to be only synthetic football jerseys (and where possible, we’ll buy second-hand).
- To accept my imperfections. I try to make choices that are better for the environment and for people, but like everyone, I fall short. I get the veggie burgers in the plastic container because my little one is a picky eater and this seems to be the only way he’ll eat vegetables. I forget to-go cups and get the coffee anyway. I do what I can to make better choices to compensate for my failings, and I make a point not to beat myself up. And isn’t this an important perspective to pass on to our children?
One lesson from my kids:
- To ask questions. Every parent has been through the “why” stage with their child. That endearing, yet annoying, phase when every response is met with another “why,” digging you into a philosophical hole. But this phase is an important reminder to grownups that we can and should stay curious about our purchases. Ask a million questions about where things were made, by whom, and with what. Assess those answers and see if they meet your personal ethical criteria. If they don’t, do something about it. Vote elsewhere with your dollars. Ask companies to do more or do better.
As I continue on this journey with my family, and as the leader of a conscious company, I’m sure I’ll come across a million other lessons from making more purposeful purchases. What lessons have you learned as you venture to make better purchases?