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Inconspicuous Consumption

Alicia Ambrosio

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A woman walks down a city street, glancing at storefront windows as she goes by. Suddenly she stops, walks backwards a few paces, and turns to look through a window. She spends a few moments looking through the window, glancing at the other objects in the window, yet her eye seems drawn to one item in particular. She moves as if to walk to the door of the shop, hesitates, goes back to the window, and looks at the door. This dance of hesitation continues for several moments before the woman either decides to walk away or go into the store.
The scene repeats itself countless times a day in cities around the world. Sometimes the factors that lead to indecision are economic, sometimes they’re practical. For some women the desire to have that thing in the window is in conflict with her deeper values, especially when the woman in question is trying to live a life based on Gospel values, not tied to the accumulation of things.
Kristy Lawrence – Ross  of Edmonton was such a woman until an unexpected encounter with a volunteer from an organization that helps fight human trafficking opened her eyes. A volunteer from Freedom Stones came to speak at Lawrence – Ross’ church about the realities of human trafficking and how the organization helps women avoid being trafficked by teaching them skills they can use to start a small business.
“For the first time I allowed myself to be exposed to the information,” Lawrence Ross said. She realized her own spending habits also played a role in perpetuating the cycle of supply and demand. She also realized many of the things she enjoyed buying were probably made in places where people were being paid a pittance compared to the retail price of the item. “By not purchasing fair trade, I was contributing to the problem”
The solution for Lawrence – Ross was a change in her shopping habits and her volunteer activities.  She said she took a hard look at how she shops and where she shops. As well, she joined the fight against human trafficking and poverty by becoming a volunteer with Freedom Stones. Asked for her top suggestions on how to break the chain of conspicuous consumption, she gave the following tips:
  1. Avoid impulse purchases. “Our values fly out the window when we shop on an impulse,” she explained.
  2. Read the manufacturer’s tags. Lawrence – Ross explained the tags can help identify in what conditions the item was produced. Look for the words “fair trade” on the tag, or “Made in Canada.” However, “just because something is made in Canada or the US doesn’t always guarantee that workers are being paid fairly and just because something is made in a developing country doesn’t mean workers are necessarily being exploited,” she added. The barcode on a product now reveals more information than ever before. The smartphone App Free2Work allows consumers to scan the barcode of product and instantly receive information on the company’s production ethics and standards.
  3. Look for Fair Trade products at all levels. “Coffee is not the only thing that can be fair trade,” said Lawrence – Ross, citing clothing brands that manufacture their products in factories in North America and make a point of paying their seamstresses a living wage.
  4. Do your research. Information about different company’s production practices and supply chain are available on line. Lawrence – Ross recommends going on line to find out where and how a company makes their product and if your favorite brand doesn’t have good production practices, find one that does. “There is all kinds of information out there, you just have to look for it.”
  5. Shop at consignment stores. “I love shopping at consignment stores, I get good items at a lower price and I’m not buying into the cycle of,” said. Consignment shops exist in most major cities and often sell clothing, furniture, and small household electronics. Unlike thrift stores, consignment shops carefully select the items they chose to stock. Items must are generally in mint condition or just-like-new. When an item is sold, the shops pays the original owner a percentage of the sale price.
Photo courtesy of Catholic News Service

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