How Shopping Can Actually Help Women Around the World

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Mandy Nagel says she started her company, I Thought of You, by accident. While traveling through Indonesia, she met a woman named Yulia who was selling handmade jewelry at a local market. Yulia’s profits went toward supporting her family; Nagel ended up buying more than 20 pieces from her, excited to share the new collection, and Yulia’s story, back home. After receiving so many compliments, she decided to sell some of the pieces online.

“They sold instantly,” Nagel tells CircleAround.

Nagel realized the pieces she bought were an investment in Yulia’s life, and that there must be others around the world who could benefit from the same kind of direct-to-consumer system. She saw this as an opportunity to create positive change by connecting artisan women with consumers wanting to support creators around the world. 

Today, I Thought of You is a female-owned business selling sustainable and Fair Trade products made by women from countries like Turkey, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines — where employment opportunities are sometimes unsafe or non-existent for women. Nagel’s company guarantees each artisan is fairly compensated for her time, labor, and talent. The women set their own prices so they can earn a stable income, be empowered to build equity, and give back to their own communities. 

According to Nagel, selling these products not only helps women in disadvantaged communities, but it also keeps waste out of landfills by utilizing upcycled materials and breaking the cycle of fashion waste and reliance on sweatshop labor. Nagel provides consumers with information about the origin of the goods so they can make better-informed decisions about their shopping choices overall. “When customers make small changes in their buying habits and can see the long-lasting effects it creates, it completely changes your perspective on life,” she tells CircleAround.

To learn more, CircleAround asked Nagel for advice on how consumers can better support sustainable brands that are good for the environment and people. Here is what she had to say.

Buy Pre-Loved or Vintage Attire 

If you buy from fast-fashion brands that offer trendy styles at deeply-discounted prices, you may be contributing to fashion waste and not even know it. That’s because clothes from fast-fashion brands, such as H&M, Forever 21, and others, often use materials that are harmful to our environment. These types of brands also often don’t pay their factory workers a living wage.  

Steering clear of fast fashion, and making a commitment to buy secondhand or gently-used clothing, can drastically reduce fashion waste. 

“Buying secondhand cuts down on bulk in landfills, and slows the use of resources for new items to be made,” Nagel tells CircleAround. “More people are building their dream wardrobes through the power of thrifting, and are helping to save the environment.”

Think About Sustainability in a Broader Sense

“In life, there are few things that only have one ‘right’ way of doing them,” says Nagel. “This can also be said of advocating for slow fashion.” She advises anyone who is unsure of how they can integrate sustainability into their everyday lives to take the pressure off themselves by first figuring out how fair trade practices can work in their immediate lifestyle, and expanding it from there.

For example, Nagel believes that when one piece of clothing can be worn in many ways, it can actually save consumers the trouble of continually buying new clothing. She tries to stock up on as many convertible clothing items as possible, such as the Long Top, which can be worn 18+ different ways. According to their website, the garment is hand-cut, sewn, and dyed by women she collaborates with in Indonesia, bridging the gap between consumers and creators, and providing longevity through quality, versatile clothing.

Less Talk, More Action 

Once you feel comfortable incorporating fair trade practices into your everyday life, it will be easier to commit to fair trade practices overall. But it has to be a product of action, not just theory, Nagel feels. This can come from discussing supply chain models with your favorite shops, exploring opportunities to reduce your carbon footprint, and reevaluating existing items in your life and how you can make better decisions for future purchases.

“One of the greatest beauties of sustainable lifestyles is that you don’t have to stop at just fashion,” Nagel says. “There are countless businesses selling countless different products, who also are practicing sustainability. Once you start looking, you’ll find businesses everywhere with missions you’ll love to support.”

Tags: Social Justice, Gender Equality, Empowerment

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Written By

Katka Lapelosová

Katka is a writer from New York City, currently living in Belgrade, Serbia. See Full Bio

CircleAround will make financial distributions to benefit current Girl Scouts: the next generation of trailblazers who will CircleAround after us. So CircleAround for inspiration, and CircleAround the leaders of tomorrow. CircleAround is owned by One GS Media, a subsidiary of Girl Scouts of the USA.

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