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An Unofficial Guide to Ethical Holiday Shopping

By: Camille MuecoAn Unofficial Guide to Ethical Holiday Shopping

Every Filipino knows that the Christmas season begins when the first of the “-ber” months roll in. As early as September, Christmas bazaars litter malls and convention centers. The smell of sweet Christmas kakanin treats mixed with the stench of sweat from cramped halls and long cash register lines permeates the air. Christmas music plays in between the announcements of holiday deals. Excitement for the gifts you’ll receive and the holiday parties you’ll attend blends with the dread of remembering how many family members, inaanak, friends, and officemates you’ll have to buy gifts for in return.

Bottom line is, Filipinos love shopping as much as they love Christmas. But what to buy? In the wake of fast fashion and cheap production costs, there are so many cheap, albeit cheaply made, options. You, as a conscious consumer, want something a little better; something that equally offers high-quality items and high-quality of life for both its maker and receiver. To give you a head start, we’ve come up with a few tips on how you can shop more ethically during the holiday season.

Look for local.  With the rise of imports from foreign companies, our local brands tend to suffer as the market becomes more open. Filipinos will typically choose the former as a result of colonial mentality and the media leading us to believe that these brands are “rewards.” We fail to realize the benefits of supporting homegrown products. It allows communities, such as the Marikina shoemakers, to survive and preserve traditions. Buying local not only strengthens the local economy by providing jobs and allowing the money to stay within the community, it also reduces the environmental impact of the retail industry. Shipping takes a toll on the environment thanks to the waste it produces through additional packaging as well as the greenhouse gases emitted during transport.

Mind your materials. An underrepresented aspect when it comes to transparency in fashion is the materials used to make our garments. While we value ethical labor, we should view sustainable materials as equally important. Local fabrics are made of low impact materials that are better for the environment. Why not put the spotlight on our country’s natural textiles and the weaving communities that produce them? HABI The Philippine Textile Council is an organization that aims to do just that. It hosts a yearly HABI Market Fair that features products made of local cotton as well as traditional weaves such as Cordillera fabrics from Sagada, Banaue, and Kalinga. The organization’s current focus is on the revival of Philippine cotton to meet with the industry’s current demand for 100% cotton garments. They also encourage weavers by helping them update their designs to today’s trends. They aim to show that our weaves are not only meant for costumes or special occasions but that they can be used in everyday, modern designs.

Enter the (social) enterprise. The ethical fashion movement is slowly growing in the Philippines. At the forefront of this are social enterprise groups. Some focus on sustainable materials or ethical labor and a few gems focus on both. Reclaimed or recycled materials are frequently used in crafting their products. They take upcycling to another level and show us that eco-friendly can also mean eco-chic. While these products are typically at a premium, they create job streams in places that would have no other means of livelihood. Their products are found via online stores or at bazaars. Why not visit one yourself and meet a maker?

Support small businesses. This is the mantra I live by personally. Looking through artisan goods made by passionate individuals is very satisfying. Meeting the creators in real life and learning about the processes that go into making their products trump just buying things from a chain store any day. As a bonus, you get to instantly know who made your clothes as most of these businesses are run by the same person crafting the items.

Maximize minimalism. The lifestyle, not the trend. Filipinos love to spoil their loved ones. Every trip we take demands a ludicrous amount of pasalubong or souvenirs for family, friends, and officemates. But instead of buying multiple small trinkets, just get a single well-thought-out present that the receiver will actually use. If Dad just needs a new sweater, don’t get him three but in different trendy colors. Pick one in a classic shade that he can wear regularly. While Filipinos have extended families that tend to span the whole barangay, don’t feel obliged to get everyone a present. You aren’t a Scrooge for not getting your sister’s best friend’s cousin a gift.

Brand new isn’t the new Black. The ‘treat yourself’ mentality is especially hard to escape during the holiday season. With all the holiday get-togethers cropping up, we want to look our best so we typically allow ourselves to splurge on a new piece or even whole outfits. Why not exercise your styling skills through thrifted outfits? Revisit the magic of ukay shopping like you did in your college days. If you’re more of an online shopper, don’t fret; our social media is rife with online selling apps and thrift store accounts. During your hunt, look for style inspiration from your favorite bloggers and celebrities or maybe even shop their closets! A few bazaars that allow you to meet and purchase from these influencers tend to pop up during this time of year. Remember that looking expensive doesn’t have to be expensive. It also doesn’t have to have the human cost of fast fashion.

Workshop till you drop. Rather than giving someone XP in a video game, why not gift an experience in real life? The metro is bustling with interesting workshops and online courses. If you know someone with fitness goals that can’t seem to stay motivated in the gym, why not get them a voucher for a unique activity like archery or parkour? Got someone who is bitten by the craft bug? Get them a voucher to a creative space or sewing studio. After all, nothing is more satisfying than making something for yourself. 

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