The Engaged Consumer
By Kelsey Timmerman
March 26, 2009
I’m Kelsey and I’m an engaged consumer. At least I try to be.
There are a lot of adjectives that get thrown around to describe consumers. Mindless comes to mind. But there are others too, such as conscious and ethical. In my book Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes I make the argument that we should strive to be “engaged” consumers.
I usually don’t get hung up on semantics, but I have a problem with the term “conscious consumer.” I’ve met plenty of folks who are aware of the social and environmental impacts that their shopping has on the world and its people. In fact, before I left to research my book pretty much everyone I met was conscious of the issues surrounding the garment industry.
“When you tell a normal person with a normal job, rent, or a mortgage, and a car payment, that you are spending thousands of dollars to go to a country because that was where your T-shirt was made, first they’ll think you’re crazy and then they’ll say something about sweatshops.”
The thing is, no one applied this knowledge to how they shopped. There is a disconnect between knowledge and habit. So few of us are engaged.
We love the ocean and know that trawling for shrimp does irreparable damage, but we don’t ask our server how the shrimp on the menu was caught.
We hear about a brand’s product being made in a “sweatshop” (I hate this term; expect this to be addressed in a future post) so we swear off the brand without telling a soul.
For a second or two we wonder why catalogs list a product’s country of origin as only one of two things: “Made in USA” or “Imported”. When we get the T-shirt, table, or toy, it will say right on the tag or packaging, but for some reason the info is kept from us in catalogs. This bugs us a little, but not enough to make a phone call or send an email.
Awareness and consciousness are passive.
Since my global quest to meet the folks who made my clothes I’ve been converted to being an engaged consumer, but I’m still a work in progress. I’m still deciding what to buy or not buy and what brands to support. How to interact with the global systems such as the ones that feed us, clothe us, and put fuel in our cars so we can drive to work.
If you’re wondering what lengths I’ll go to investigate a product, all you need to know is one thing: I went to Bangladesh because my underwear was made there.
This blog will document my adventures as an engaged consumer. I’d be happy to hear yours.