We need to talk about sustainable shopping. It’s a conversation that leaves us with more questions than answers, but still a conversation worth having.
Who better to have a chat with than Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, president and co-founder of social enterprises Rags2Riches (R2R) and Things That Matter. For a little over a decade, Reese has run R2R with the philosophy that “style and sustainability can coexist”. Through Things That Matter, Reese has created what she calls “joyful marketplaces” that inspire consumers to really put thought into the products they buy.
Photo from Reese Fernandez-Ruiz
Even for someone like Reese, the struggle to shop sustainably is real. Here, she helps us navigate the nuanced world of sustainable shopping and, in the process, makes us want to be better, more conscious consumers.
How do you define “sustainable shopping”?
“I think there will always be an environmental cost when we shop. But we can always make more conscious and intentional decisions to reduce the environmental cost of our shopping, and to even empower others through it!
For me, sustainable shopping is not just about buying sustainable products—although that’s part of it! It is about being intentional. It is about buying only the things we need and the things that “spark joy”. It is thinking about not just how we’ll use the product but how we’ll dispose of it, too. It is about making it a habit to bring our own reusable bags when we do shop for the things that matter to us.”
Who are your sustainability icons? What lessons have you learned from them?
“ There are many in the country and in the world, and I try my best to learn from their practices and principles.
What I have learned from all of them, though, is that while we try to make big changes through engaging with governments and big corporations to be more sustainable, we must also practice sustainable living in our own lives. Another important thing is to always try to be inclusive when it comes to being sustainable because there is still much to be done. We can’t do these things alone.”
What sustainable shopping practice was the easiest, most natural for you to pick up and commit to?
“Early on, I created my own guide when shopping for clothes. I made sure that I only buy the clothes that I will truly love for a long time. It was the easiest for me because I rarely really shop for clothes but when I do, I tend to go overboard! Having that guide helped me make my shopping more intentional. Starting with that one simple discipline gave me the confidence to expand my sustainability practices to other parts of my lifestyle, too.”
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What sustainable shopping practice do you still struggle with? And how do you challenge yourself to keep trying to change this habit?
“Disposables and packaging are still very hard to avoid, especially now that I have a toddler.
I am a believer of trying again and again so I have not really stopped trying even though there are times when I fail or fall short.”
Have you encountered sustainability skeptics? How do you try to convince or empower them?
“I think for some, sustainability is still considered a niche or a nice-to-have rather than a way of life that we all need to adapt—otherwise our world will not be the home that we want it to be for ourselves and our kids. When we do encounter sustainability skeptics or people who don’t yet care about sustainability, we make sure to educate rather than alienate.”