Conscious Living

Bridging the Intention Gap: How to Shop According to Your Values

So many of us want to make more ethical shopping decisions, but it can be time consuming, expensive and overwhelming to put into practice. If you are struggling to shop with your values in mind, you aren’t alone. Research shows that up to 50% of shoppers say they care about ethical shopping, but don’t actually buy that way. So what can we do? In an effort to bridge the intention gap and make ethical shopping more accessible, we’re breaking down a few key habits you can use to curate a more intentional wardrobe. 
By Printfresh Staff
September 2021
Bridging the Intention Gap: How to Shop According to Your Values
Bridging the Intention Gap: How to Shop According to Your Values

What is ethical shopping?

Generally speaking, ethical shopping means doing whatever we can to buy products that are made without the exploitation of people, animals, or the environment. But this can be a confusing topic to navigate. There are some certifications you can look for, but many of the terms you may see are up for interpretation. We find it helpful to think about value-based shopping in these four general categories:

Sustainable or eco-focused - products are made from natural fibers or organic materials, use or encourage recycled or upcycled clothing, garments are produced in small batches or on demand.

Ethical - this may include B Corp or Fair Trade certified brands, those that feature diverse models in advertising, size inclusivity, female or BIPOC owned businesses, small or local businesses.

Vegan or cruelty-free - products are made with animal-free materials in both production and final item, and/or incorporate the use of synthetic alternatives to animal-based fabrics.

Charitable - a percentage of profits are given back to the local community or to support wider charitable initiatives.

If you are just getting started, don’t try to focus on all of these aspects at once. Just like your style, your values are unique and personal to you. While your focus may be on building a vegan closet, a friend could be more interested in buying handmade clothes from local small businesses. These categories are here to help you identify which values you are most aligned with – and give you a starting point of what to look for.

How to Shop with Values in Mind

1. Identify the values you most want to incorporate into your shopping habits. 

The most important first step in moving towards this approach is having a really clear picture of what your values are. This will make it much easier for you to identify brands and retailers who you might want to continue shopping with. If you find yourself drawn to certain charitable organizations or a specific issue tugs at your heart a little more than others, that’s a good indication of where you should begin.

2. Take stock of your current habits

Take a look at the companies and products you buy the most. Are they sustainable? Do they have any certifications? Do your research first on the brands you are already buying from and start a list of which ones meet your criteria and which don’t. Don’t get discouraged if you find that what you own doesn’t align with your values (the most environmentally friendly thing to do usually is to use what you already have). Keep those items and then make a plan to switch to a more sustainable or ethical business as soon as an item needs to be replaced. 

As you are doing this, you will probably come across some swaps that would be relatively easy for you to make. Organize your list of changes you would like to make and pick one to implement. By focusing on one small change at a time, you will be less likely to get overwhelmed. We also find that once you have had some success building a habit, the momentum will keep you moving towards your goal.

3. Find brands & stores that you trust

It does take some time to research products and companies to find out if they align with your values.

We suggest looking into brands’ manufacturing process, sustainability initiatives, and commitments to social responsibility. Read their About page and look at their images. Do they embrace diversity? Are they using language that aligns with your values? If the information isn’t available on their website or from a quick Google search, their customer service may be able to provide you with this information. However, keep in mind that sometimes the absence of information is telling in itself.

“I constantly hear from friends and family that they buy stuff on Amazon because it’s so fast and easy. But to be a more value-driven customer, we need to find retailers who can help us in a pinch.” - Amy Voloshin

4. Have a handful of go-to last minute stores

If local small businesses aren’t the right choice for what you need, don’t immediately write off big brand stores. Target offers a wide selection of eco-focused products and places worker safety and culture as a top priority. Nordstrom is also a great choice and carries a wide selection of high quality brands, all backed by their family business mentality.

5. Do a cost analysis

Shipping Charges: Can you consolidate the companies you order from to spread out the shipping charges over a larger order? Or, can you reach the free shipping threshold?

Calculate Cost Per Wear/Use: If you are investing in higher quality products, you will get more use out of them. Calculate the cost per use to see if you are really saving money by purchasing something cheaper that won’t last as long. 

Look for Reusable Containers: There are several household items that you can purchase in reusable containers. While the initial investment might be more than picking up a bottle from the grocery store – ordering the refills will bring your cost down overtime.

Consider a subscription: For items you use regularly, consider a subscription service as a way to consolidate your orders and bring your prices down.

Ultimately, the amount you are able to spend to shop with your values is a personal one – but there are ways to offset the premium you may pay for sustainably and ethically produced goods.

"Tuning into our needs versus our wants helps us to curb impulse buying habits that often lead to unwanted items from less than ethical brands." - Amy Voloshin

6. Plan when you need to make purchases

A large part of being a more values-focused consumer is being more intentional and thoughtful about not only where we purchase from, but when and how much.

Learn to set boundaries around your purchasing– a great starting point is a “one in, one out” rule for certain types of clothes like jeans or sweaters. This helps us to learn to make do with what we currently have or to take the time to make more informed decisions about a necessary purchase. Our team loves to pass along unneeded clothing through Facebook ‘Buy Nothing’ groups to be responsible when following this rule.

Planning also gives you the chance to save for higher quality items, from t-shirts to sleepwear, rather than spending less with cheaper brands. Investing in better materials and timeless styles will ultimately save you more money long-term, along with breaking the fast fashion cycle that unethical brands are known for. If you need a particular item sooner, take a look at “Buy Nothing” Facebook groups or local consignment sales in your area – you never know what you might find!

We’d love to know how you build your values into your shopping habits, so leave us a comment with your top tips!

comments comments

PF MAG is dedicated to thoughtful, not-so-simple living. Founded by Amy Voloshin as a stationery and sleepwear brand, Printfresh has grown into far more than that. Our articles provide discerning perspectives on all things lifestyle, including fashion, wellness, design, travel and home decor, as well as interviews with some of the people who inspire us most.


Stay inspired with thoughtful interviews, design and DIY ideas, recipes, shopping tips, and so much more.