Before you buy that

I'm not always the greatest at being three steps ahead in life - like those people who get their Christmas shopping done by October. I'm the one frantically paying for next-day shipping the day before Christmas Eve, then wrapping the gifts in the backseat of my car before I walk into the family gathering while it dawns on me I probably forgot to rip off the price tag.

But I still aspire. The older I get, the more responsible I want to be. I want to steward well what I've been given, which means being more intentional. Beyond the pleasure of getting my Christmas gift list checked off before December 25th this year, I want to be more conscious in what I purchase - both during the giving season and after.

Here's how you can do the same and why you should even want to.

Modern slavery is a reality, and you might be contributing to it.

I normally cringe at the reactions that I get when I say slavery because it's usually one of indifference, disbelief, doubt, or at times complete disrespect.

But I'd like to call it what it is. Here are the facts from International Justice Mission, the world's largest anti-slavery organization.

"There are more than 40 million slaves globally."

"Human trafficking generates $150B annually."

"1 in 4 victims of forced labor is a child."

But those are just numbers. We don't always remember that numbers represent people, so here are a few stories belonging to those statistics.

Slavery looks like a mother named Gowri in India who took out a loan from a factory owner in order to provide for her children, but became trapped in a decade long debt that was unrealistic and impossible to escape. She was never paid a reasonable wage for her labor, and she and her children were beaten by the factory owner. This is also known as bonded labor.

It looks like Foli, a young boy who daydreams of soccer and school but instead of being a child, he works 19 hour days on his uncle's fishing boat in Africa. This is also known as forced labor. (More on their stories can be found here, or watch Gowri's story below.)

What do these faces have to do with us? How are our shopping habits intertwined with their lives?

Oftentimes the items we purchase (at very notable chain stores) somewhere along the production line were made with slave labor. Common items like coffee, chocolate, laptops, tennis shoes, and clothing are very possibly formed by the hands of overworked, underpaid, and mistreated humans. Children and their families who work 80+ hours a week, who receive inadequate food and hygiene, who don't get paid a just wage for their labor... This is happening alllllll the time around the world and without our awareness and decisions to shop more ethically, we contribute to the cycle.

So what do we do about it?

We shop smarter.

We buy fair trade.

"Fair Trade Certified" is essentially like having a stamp of approval on a product to ensure you, the buyer, that what you purchase was not made with unfair labor. Fair Trade is a movement that advocates for fair wages, community impact, and environmental protections. The Fair Trade website says it beautifully and simply: "...the products we [consumers] buy and sell are connected to the livelihood of others." Our purchase at Target is bridged to the person overseas whose hands played a part in the makings of that item.

Throughout years of research on this subject, I have formed hunches about certain brands that you and I commonly shop at, and I am wary of the journey that their products underwent before sitting on the shelf where we eye them and tell ourselves we just can't go home without them.

So below you'll find examples of chocolate brands that I recommend avoiding. And there are many big chain stores that I'm suspicious of, but I won't call out by name because I don't have hard data to post along with it. But for your own purposes, you should understand when a store does not want to share their supply chain story with the public (like publishing their wages) we have reason to be suspicious and concerned that their products were made unfairly.

But instead of talking about what not to buy, I'd like to focus on what you can and should buy when tackling your Christmas list this year. (Or any time of the year, preferably!)

Let me be upfront. We will have to make a trade-off. Understand that many of these products are more expensive than the mass-produced pair of shoes priced at $19.99. But it boils down to our values, and we have to make a choice. Are we willing to spend more for greater impact? It's possible that the emotional satisfaction of buying something that helps our local or global community is sometimes a bigger payoff than saving a few bucks.

Some might say, "I don't have the money to buy fair trade." Ok, maybe you don't. But I'm sort of willing to bet you do. When we want something, we usually find a way to spend the money on it. We're all willing to spend money on what we value. All we have to do is peak into our bank account and we will find what matters to us most.

So here's your shopping directory. I've narrowed it down to my three top picks in each of the following categories. I gathered the majority of this info from the links I included at the end that have plenty more brands to choose from, but I decided it a little easier for you to get started shopping smartly.

For clothing



thredUP {requires a login account}

For jewelry

Dustmade {locally owned in Georgia}

La Soucique Studio {locally owned in Amelia Island, FL}

Raven + Lily

For bags



Melie Bianco

For the home

West Elm

The Little Market {Lauren Conrad, anyone? <3}

Rose + Fitzgerald

For shoes

Allbirds or The People's Movement {tennis shoes}

Matisse Footwear


Smaller gift ideas

Fair Trade Winds

People Tree

The Little Market

For food

PS: These brands are normally found in the organic section at your grocery store.

Clif Bar

Newman's Own Organics

Rapunzel Pure Organics

Chocolate(it deserves its own category, right?)


Hershey Godiva



Kraft Haribo {these aren't chocolate - they're those famous little gummy bears}


Montezuma's Chocolates

Kailua Candy Company

Koppers Chocolate

When possible, just buy locally made products. (If you're in Blackshear, Georgia, go to Josiah's Blessings!) I love the idea of shop small. Not only do you contribute to your own little community, you're more likely to avoid playing a role in the cycle of modern slavery.

Here are links that contain way more options. But I didn't want to overwhelm you, so I narrowed them to three in this blog post. But rest assured, you have way more choices (aka, less excuses to not buy fair trade).

Long list of ethical brands:

Fair trade bags:

More affordable clothing choices:

Facts and personal stories about slavery were taken from International Justice Mission's website. This is the largest anti-slavery organization in the world.

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