When I used to visit the shopping centre, whether I was  buying something I needed or browsing for something I probably didn’t, I’d often feel found overwhelmed with questions bouncing around my head.  

“How can these clothes be made so cheaply?” 

“Do I really need all this stuff?” 

“Is this material sustainable?” 

“What did I even come to the shops for?” 

As I learnt more about fashion consumption in our country and the industry’s impact on the people who make our clothes and the environment, I began to ask these questions more.  

Our recent Australian Ethical Consumer Report suggests I’m not alone in this overwhelm. The belief that it’s harder to shop ethically in-store than online was one of the most common barriers Australians felt to shopping in line with their values. It came in third, behind the belief that it’s more expensive, and being uncertain about which brands are ethical.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! 

Here are my seven tips for navigating shopping centres without abandoning your ethical fashion values.  

1. Write a shopping list of things you need

A study conducted by MyState Bank in October last year found that five million Australians had purchased something in the last week that they already regret. Yikes! Shopping for what we need is becoming more important for our wallets and mental health, and to avoid waste. It’s basic but effective. Putting what you’re shopping for down in writing before you get there is a great way to keep yourself accountable and on task.  

2. Check Baptist World Aid’s Brand Finder

It can be hard to know what brands are ethical in-store—brands aren’t always transparent about their ethics, and certainly less so with their enticing displays and sale signs.  

Thankfully, with our Brand Finder tool, you can access scores of almost 600 of the biggest global and Australian brands at your fingertips to see how they perform on issues of worker empowerment, modern slavery and environmental sustainability. Check it before you go shopping so you know which brands, out of the ones that are accessible and affordable for you, have production practices more in line with your values.  

3. Check in with your body before shopping

Everyone has heard the advice not to go grocery shopping hungry, but this concept might hold true for more than just the supermarket. Our willpower, and ability to hold fast to our values when making decisions, are greatly affected by what is going on in our bodies.  

Let’s face it—even outside of Black Friday or Christmas crowds, shopping centres can easily become overstimulating with their bright lights, loud music and bustling crowds, not to mention the to-do list that might be running through your head and the 15 minutes you spent looking for a carpark. If you add hunger and tiredness, you’re far less able to be decisive, confident and disciplined in your purchases.  

Consider having a snack before you head to the shops or bringing one with you. You might also want to stop to take a few deep breaths after you’ve parked the car or stepped off the bus. And if the noise of the shopping centre can become too much for you, consider bringing a pair of headphones or researching if any of your local shops have quiet hours.  

4. Bring your reusables

Make sure to bring your reusable bags with you, and pack produce bags or containers for any fresh food you might be picking up. You can also chuck an extra keep cup or container in your bag for any food court stops.  

5. Be willing to wait

If you have fallen in love and have to buy something that you didn’t come to the shops for, consider waiting before you make a purchase. If it’s perfect for you, it will be tomorrow as well! I’m a big fan of Shakaila Forbes-Bell’s 4-3-2-1 rule.

  • Can you see yourself wearing it in 4 years time?  
  • Can you think of 3 different occasions you’ll wear it?  
  • Take 2 deep breaths. 
  • Have 1 good night sleep. 

6. Check the tags

If you want to dig a little deeper, take a few minutes to learn about the sustainable and ethical pros and cons of different fibres, manufacturing countries and certifications using Baptist World Aid’s easy-to-read Fibre guide, Country guide, and Certification guide.

7. Ask yourself if you need to go at all! 

Ask yourself what you’re going for and whether you really need it.  You might be able to find the perfect unique piece at your local op-shop rather than shopping for the latest fast fashion trends. And if you’re in need of basics, there are lots of smaller, often more ethical brands that might be too small to make it into the shopping centre, but have exactly what you’re after.   

Also ask yourself if the main reason you want to head shopping is for that retail therapy pick-me-up. While it’s a great dopamine boost to find some new clothes that make you feel confident or to discover a sweet deal, remember that high usually doesn’t last very long. My favourite ways to boost my mood are going for a walk outside or listening to music (bonus points for dancing along!). There are lots of different eco-friendly and affordable alternatives to retail therapy