Shopping with a clear conscience

Shopping with a clear conscience

Popular Greek YouTuber Kristen Leo (Leotsakou) went shopping in downtown Athens a few days ago, returning home after visiting two or three stores with several heavily laden bags, stuffed with clothing, shoes, jackets and more goodies. Some of the pieces were even well-known brands. And the best of it all, she’d only spent 20 euros.

Kristen is a firm believer in thrifting or buying secondhand apparel – “lightly used sounds better, I think,” she says – as a means of ethical and more environmentally friendly shopping. “I looked up the brands and original prices of the items I bought, out of curiosity. The total came to more than 1,000 euros,” she reveals, explaining one of the other great benefits of this philosophy.

Kristen is one of Greece’s most famous advocates of thrifting, with around 185,000 subscribers on YouTube (the English-language version). Secondhand shopping is one the key themes of her vlog, while videos in which she shows off her latest acquisitions are among her most popular.

Thrifting, Kristen explains, is an important part of the ethical lifestyle she’s trying to promote with her work on the social media platform, an effort that began about five years ago.

“It all started when I got a job as a flight attendant. It’s very tiring work and it took a toll on my health, so I started to read up on healthier dietary habits, which led me to veganism. I started to become increasingly interested in the subject of ethical living, realizing that our consumer habits – from our food, cosmetics and clothes, to our furniture and electronic gadgets – have an impact on other people, on the environment, on animals and also on our health,” says the 27-year-old.

For the average consumer, a 100 percent ethical lifestyle may seem like an impossible or untenable task. “There are too many fronts, it’s true,” Kristen concedes. “The best way, in my opinion, is to start with one thing, something that’s easy or that you’re passionate about, and then gradually build on that.”

Kristen started with her dietary habits (she’s become an expert in vegan recipes) and moved on to fashion. “The fashion industry is among the most polluting in the world, as a result of how the primary materials are produced – the dyes and the chemicals that are used,” she says.

Another serious concern is the fact that it is an industry that relies mainly on people working for wages that barely ensure the basics, for long hours in dangerous buildings. The April 24, 2013 collapse of a sweatshop in Bangladesh, in which 1,138 people were killed, is considered the fourth biggest industrial disaster in human history. The tragedy prompted many companies to adopt safer practices.

“No company does everything right, but there are some that try to maintain certain standards by providing better working conditions, using ecologically sound materials etc,” says Kristen. “One way is to read the labels of everything you buy and to support local manufacturers.”

Ethical fashion also costs a lot more, though. “That’s why I promote the used solution,” says Kristen. “You get good-quality clothes at a fraction of the price.”

Secondhand clothing used to get a bad rap, but that has changed over the past year or so, thanks in part to a TV show that advertised “vintage” clothing stores. “When I started buying used, Athens only had a handful of such shops. Now there’s been an explosion of such businesses. People are starting to explore this option, so having this kind of store is becoming lucrative,” says Kristen. “Just take a walk around downtown Athens. Omonia is full, but you’ll also find secondhand shops in almost every neighborhood.”

Kristen sniffs out shops that carry good-quality lightly used clothing, often from Germany, Italy and Denmark, and also sells some of the treasures she finds on the Depop website.

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