To Commerce with Love — A Search for Ethical Companies!

Thank you for stopping into Sustainability Kid.  Today we explore with Abbekah, the Creator of “To Commerce with Love” what makes an ethical company, things we have to much of, and her favourite brands… among other things. We hope you find this interview as insightful and interesting as we have!

Let’s start here, could you please give our readers a little bit of background about yourself?

So my name’s Abbekah. It’s like Rebecca, but with an A; my parents made it up! I’m 20 years old and am based in Wellington, New Zealand where I was born and raised. I love it in Welly; there’s such a vibrant culture here and it’s so multicultural and full of numerous activities from walks to festivals.

Abbekah with a rescue dog called Sadie that the neighbours were fostering during my trip to Moree!

I also just finished my Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Media and Sociology with a minor in Film and Marketing. I am hopefully going to be doing my Masters in Applied Social Work next year. I love the arts and people and just love seeing how they interact and intertwine in the weirdest and coolest of combinations.

I love studying these subjects as they have really helped me with my ethical journey and understanding the context of companies.

In my spare time I’ll either be eating way too much… My dad’s a chef, so I reckon I’m living a dream! Or I can be found playing social netball, hanging out with friends, decorating, D.I.Y’ing something, or setting up some wicked classes for the kids I teach at church on Sunday’s.

Sounds like you are having a wonderful time: great food, sports and being creative are all a lovely way to spend your time!

Without further ado, let’s jump in!

  1. What inspired you to start your Ethical Journey Blog? Tell us why you chose the title “To Commerce with Love”?

So a couple of years ago, I finally found out that there was a whole world of alternative markets that I could buy into; these markets are based on ethical and sustainable models.

At this time, there aren’t a lot of these ethical businesses in Wellington except Kowtow, Trade Aid, Commonsense Organics and a couple of little stores lurking around, a lot of which have unfortunately shut down because of lower priced items, or more recognizable brands that are often sought after.

That being said, it really took me a while to discover products and find ones that weren’t completely unreachable in terms of price. At 17 years of age, I finally got my first debit card. I add, apparently I’m a late-bloomer, as I didn’t have an eftpos either, haha.

Leather Satchel Image, To Commerce with love Instagram.
Leather Satchel Image, To Commerce with love Instagram.

With my card in hand, I began to shop online and discover all of these wonderful companies that were doing so much good for society. It took me a while to find businesses that wouldn’t charge me a lot for shipping though… I often had to ask friends from the US coming to NZ if I could ship things to their house, and have them bring it over as it was way cheaper!,

With the internet, I now can find companies that I’d never heard about and you’d never stumble upon in New Zealand. So, as I was buying all these wonderful products and telling my friends about it, I decided to document my journey. I could then show them products they most likely never would have discovered. At this time, I do all of the research, and then they ask me about brands that I love and am passionate about…

The name of my Blog was created because…

I chose the name “To Commerce With Love,” as I loved the idea of consumerism returning to something that was personal, made with love and full of equality rather than the current system we have now that creates inequality.

To Commerce with Love Blog, Instagram image.
To Commerce with Love Blog, Instagram image.

I believe that if we continue to buy into these ethical companies, instead of the current big brands that tend to not be as ethical, the world will be a better place!

As well, the CEO and founder of Solerebels, Bethlehem Alemu, inspired the name of my blog; during an interview on the Web, this person mentioned in summary…

How it was better to pay people fair wages and create good work environments that allow people to live happy and healthy lifestyles. It is important for people to be able to support a healthy life rather than depending on aid.

This whole idea of trade not aid is very important. A better future is possible by creating good jobs, rather than being a company that uses questionable production techniques. Using initiatives like one –for- one tactics is something that I really don’t agree with. Within my blog, I address businesses who use these kinds of tactics.  A lot of companies use these tactics to appear ethical and mask their unethical flaws.

I recognize the love they put into it and I love what they are doing!

  1. Has there been an article, or blog that you have written that stands out? If so, why?

I try to keep in really light-hearted and funny, well I try. Yet, I also do really want to get to the bottom of companies and get what’s really going on. If companies are really ethical, as often you’ll have companies claim to be ethical, but they have bad ratings on other sites.

I’m just like ‘gahhh who do I believe!’

Let’s see a blog that stands out, probably my favourite one is an article that I’ll be posting soon on Bare Bones. A designer label based in NZ that has recently shifted to using a fair-trade factory. I bought a dress off of them and was really excited. Sadly, I realized that the dress wasn’t actually fairly made, as they had only just changed factories and this dress was from a prior collection.

To Commerce with Love Instagram, Completely Ethical Outfit.
To Commerce with Love Instagram, Completely Ethical Outfit.

Upon this realization, I emailed the owner and she was really honest about it. Although not an ideal situation, I really appreciated her being open about it and wanting to be more ethical in the future. It’s a start and it’s good companies are moving in the fair trade direction; talking about where the dress was manufactured meant a lot to me.

  1. Does being more ethically minded when purchasing items tend to cost more than purchasing items that are not potentially ethically created? Love to know your thoughts on this?

Yes times 10! It’s weird having to save up for a simple black t-shirt that I need for work, especially when shipping is another hefty sum. It’s definitely been a struggle to support ethically minded companies, and there are a lot of companies I would love to support, yet know I will never be able to.

And with the whole range of prices out there, it really limits you with what styles you can purchase and wear.

Sometimes I walk past stores that carry unethical clothing items and they carry my dream dresses. Still, I don’t buy from these stores. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find an ethical version of that dress. Or, I find one and it’s priced way too far out of my reach.

Swonderful Jewelry Company, Image, To Commerce with Love Instagram.
Swonderful Jewelry Company, Image, To Commerce with Love Instagram.

So yes, it’s definitely a struggle, especially when I know some items of clothing are equivalent to my week’s pay. I have to remember these clothing items are investments and usually they are made to last. I unfortunately have had one ethical product fall apart, but that’s only one! If they last they can really be worth buying.

Another big thing for me also is that I need to get my head out of the current market that’s forced us to assume that seven dollars for a t-shirt is a normal and acceptable price.

I’ve also in a sense saved money while making smarter purchases, as I’m not impulsively buying or purchasing brands without thinking about the company behind the brand. Notably, high priced items that accompany supposedly high quality brands are not always ethically based items.

  1. What are some items that you’ve reused or up-cycled into new products? Why do you try to make reusing items a habit?

So, I’ve reused a lot of things for the classes I teach and for presents. I’ll reuse artwork in a diary, or newspaper by making a cute card out of it. Another way to reuse an item, I’ll use old jars as organizers for stationary supplies.

Reused Army Bottle by Abbekah's Mom from Sally Army. Image from Instagram: To Commerce with Love.
Reused Army Bottles by Abbekah’s Mom from Sally Army. Image from Instagram: To Commerce with Love.

The most major upcycling project I’ve done is probably using a ditched frame my dad found along with the offcuts at joiners to create a cupboard for my room, which is amazingly still standing!

My upcycling is not quite habitual yet… It clicks in when I see something I need and wonder if I can make it out of things lying around. At this time, I do have a cupboard full of stuff that I know can be reused into something awesome, I’m just waiting for inspiration to strike!

  1. What do you think people have enough of, and yet they keep buying more of?

This is definitely a question that I can’t answer as much anymore since I’ve gone ethical… I don’t seem to be buying much at all, haha.

I do think the ‘big one’ that I’m aware of and have studied about is definitely clothes and shoes!

We seem to have these ridiculously large amounts of clothes being produced to meet our crazy high demand of these items. It is about keeping up to date with the latest fashion trends, sadly leaving our disposal rates at an all time high and putting horrible pressure on those making the clothes. These supply chains for clothes and shoes foster unsustainable wages for workers, and enforce horrible conditions upon people who are making our latest clothing trends.screenshot_20161128-164441

Something else I think we buy a lot of that my family specifically is cutting down on are the little knick-knacks around the house, or kitchen goods. Sometimes I see mugs in the store and I think, ‘oh that’s cute’ but then remind myself that I don’t actually need it! I’ve got enough mugs at home!

We really just need the basics in life but unfortunately we live in this culture of more, more, more…!

  1. Last question! What do you think makes a completely ethical brand?

Oh so many things! Get ready for a bit of a list.

So, An ethical brand is a brand that uses organic materials that are farmed and harvested in healthy environments where workers are paid well and are not exposed to harmful chemicals. A lot of chemicals can have serious effects such as infertility on female workers.

Additionally, an ethical company does not dramatically harm the environment during the product development phase, or any other phase in the supply chain.

Body Shop, Image from Instagram: To Commerce with Love.
Body Shop, Image from Instagram: To Commerce with Love.

They don’t use animal products usually, and if they do it is done within an ethical manner where they are not killing an animal for the sole purpose of turning their skin into leather etc.

Ethical companies do not use sweatshops, and instead provide healthy and happy environments for workers with fair wages. There is no child labour used of course, or any other human rights abuses including women’s rights and violent threats made towards workers. These humane based companies make a positive impact on their community. And, if using a factory overseas, they respect the culture and values of the community they are in.

As for the product, it should be able to be disposed of in a way that will not harm the environment.

And, workers are paid well and the company is transparent throughout the entire supply chain from product production to consumer purchase.

I think I’ve covered everything haha.

A company that stands out?

The company Kowtow, I believe does a great job of being transparent. They are aware of where their materials are coming from and track their items all the way to distribution.

In the end, we are all human and all trying out best. The most important thing for me is that a company at the very least has fair production practices and items are not made in a sweatshop. Also, it is key that the company respects human rights principles.

HP InK Cartidges can be Recycled. Image from Instagram: To Commerce with Love.
HP Ink Cartidges can be Recycled. Image from Instagram: To Commerce with Love.

There are other parts of the process I hold very dear to me too, as well. I prefer companies that meet all of the ethical qualities I’ve mentioned above. I do quite like things made locally to support our economy, but I love the world, so I don’t really care where my products come from, as long as the company’s making them are being ethical!

I do often second-guess companies that outsource production overseas rather than making their items themselves at a local level. It is possible to design their clothes locally and make them in fair-trade environments.

I often wonder if these fair-trade workers really do enjoy their work, or if they do it as it’s just a better alternative? So, there’s a bit of a conflict in my mind there and one I’ll continue to ponder as I carry on shopping ethically…

Thank you for taking the time to share your insights on ethically minded businesses Abbekah!


Connect with “To Commerce with Love’s Creator, Abbekah: 

Instagram: Click here

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