“My mother always wore khadi (Indian homespun cotton fabric). When we wanted nylon she said: ‘I’ll buy you nylon. But you know, if you buy nylon, some industrialist will get another Mercedes, and if you buy khadi, some woman’s chulha (kitchen fire) will get lit. You decide.’ That was a profound lesson in simple living.”
Supporting local and independent businesses and companies that produce sweat-shop free products is one of our top priorities, both when purchasing everyday items and, crucial to this post, gear for our trip.
Contrary to popular opinion, ethical sourcing and sourcing gear domestically are both very possible and realistic endeavors, even in this day and age. Finding alternatives to the mainstream brands just takes a little extra time to research who’s still out there producing stuff and learning what you can about their production methods.
You Get More for Your Money
The good news is that the time you take to ethically source products pays off. With few exceptions, products produced by companies that are socially responsible are of fantastic quality and the smaller companies often offer top-notch customer service. Plus, as a bonus, you can feel good knowing that your money will be recycled back into a community (local or global) that reflects your values and that you’re not directly funding the cycle of exploitation maintained by so many irresponsible businesses.
Beware of Greenwashing : Peel back the company-applied “Green” Label
A caveat here in regards to socially responsible companies: We’re not talking about companies like Patagonia or The North Face. Many companies try to “greenwash” their operations (i.e. 1% for the Planet) but when you dig deeper, their practices of moving their production “offshore” to sweatshops, their blatant disregard for the domestic workforce, and their exploitation of both labor and the environment in far off places illuminates their real priority – maximizing their profits at the expense of people and our planet. We’ll talk more about how to spot “greenwashing” in a future post.
So how are we ethically sourcing products?
We’re tackling the task of sourcing by using our Purchasing Procedure and following the hierarchy below, in order of priority:
Use What We Have
Our goal is to use as much as we can from our current collection and to replace it when (and if) it wears out or fails along the way. We are also very handy with an upholstery needle and industrial thread (see photo insert/link ) and will continue our practice of repairing gear for as long as is practical before replacing it (my five and half year old bags I use for flying have far more of my own thread holding them together then they ever left the factory with).
Replacing Old Gear for more Expedition-Ready Gear
Craigslist and eBay serve as good sources of used gear and remain useful for selling gear that we are replacing with more reliable alternatives. Stuff we out-and-out replaced, things like a tent and panniers, we sold to local people via Craigslist or at yard sales with the proceeds going to fund the purchase of replacements. Nothing was “chucked out.”
Stuff we bought new (and/or used) was sourced from domestic companies or, if a much better/stronger/longer lasting/more reliable alternative was available from another country with similar or better labor and environmental standards, we chose what we felt to be the best over the domestic version (i.e. Ortlieb’s non-PVC waterproof panniers [from Germany] over Jandd’s less durable offering [from San Diego, California] or our Hilleberg tent [Estonia] over a TarpTent [Seattle, Washington]).
Also, we offset the negative effects of the purchase of new gear with our substantial reduction in other personal belongings as part of our downsizing efforts. In other words, we’ve sold or given away far more then we’ve procured new, for what its worth.
A tiny percentage of the stuff we’ve ended up purchasing new or used came from China or Taiwan. Unfortunately, items like our Pacsafe security webs are one-offs and no alternative manufacturer(s) exist.
Along these lines, the technology dilemma certainly caused us consternation. My computer is made in China and although we could have purchased tiny computers made, or at least assembled, in the USA, their cost was prohibitive. For example, this company assembles tiny computers for tactical pursuits. Their comparable products, say, to my ASUS, run more then twelve times the price. Here’s another company that produces very reasonably priced low voltage (not line voltage) PC’s for those off-the-grid and/or utilizing 12 volt up to 24V power supply (say from a solar panel or batteries charged via a wind turbine). These computers are very interesting but limited in their transportability. In the end, we decided to buy the Chinese options and donate money to the Basel Action Network, the world’s only organization focused on confronting the global environmental injustice and economic inefficiency of toxic trade (toxic wastes, products and technologies). Of course, we could have opted out of technology, but then again, how would you now be reading this?
More To Come on Sourcing & the Companies We Dicover along the way
This is only a summary of our sourcing adventures. Stay tuned for in-depth gear reviews and a list compiling manufacturers we’ve come across who make exceptional equipment right here in North America (see our Gear pages for a detailed listing our choices for traveling). In the meantime, check out the investigative Sweat Shop Warrior series on Television Without Borders to get a better idea of how outsourcing and sweatshop labor affect us locally and globally.
Want to know more about Vandana Shiva? Read an interview with the environmental activist, author, feminist, and a leader of the International Forum on Globalization.