Have you ever heard the phrase "voting with your wallet?" The idea is to use the power that you, as a consumer, have in influencing big brands. Whether it be clothing, food, or beauty products, there are many brands with ethically sourced ingredients or materials that are worth supporting with your money. Otherwise, why should we be giving big brands our money if we don't agree with the way they run their companies? For example, a clothing brand like Forever 21 does not communicate information about its environmental policies, and its labor sourcing is poorly rated in terms of paying its workers living wage and empowering employees. Still, it's a popular brand, and its cheap, fashionable clothes tend to draw in customers without a second thought.

In reality, though, it is essential that we take a look into the economics behind some of our favorite brands. It is most likely cheaper for a company such as Forever 21 to outsource labor and pollute the environment with dyes and chemicals than for them to pay their workers a living wage and pay for responsible disposal of toxic materials. Unfortunately, an overabundance of companies get away with going the cheap route despite their practices being unethical or environmentally unsound. That may seem depressing and irreversible, but I can assure you that we can shift these practices to be more moral.

Imagine if half of the consumers of a product decided to stop supporting a brand because of an aversion to their unethical practices. That brand would then be losing 50% of their profit, and thus be losing their incentive to source unsustainable and ethical producers purely because of economic savings. It's that easy — our capitalist society is only concerned about financial profit, so companies are easily persuaded to reform their practices once they begin to lose income.

Check out the film "The True Cost," it can be found on Netflix. It's an incredible documentary depicting the detriments of fast fashion and Americans' tendencies to overlook the bad for a cheap fast-fashion solution. This film seriously had me doubting every purchase I've ever made. Since I first saw it, I downloaded the app "Good On You," a convenient collection of brand ratings based on their concern for ethical usage of labor, environment, and animals. When my Instagram ads suggest a new brand to me, I won't even glance at their website without consulting Good On You!

Furthermore, there are additional apps and websites, such as Better World Shopper, that rate those factors and more! Better World Shopper evaluates a brand's concern for human rights, environment, and animal rights, but also rates community involvement and social justice, including a company's sourcing of illegal products and practices such as labor trafficking. These ratings correspond to where a product comes from — what is its environmental impact and who has been taken advantage of to make this product available to you? When it comes to voting with your wallet, you want to support the companies who value the same things you do.

Lately, I've noticed an increase in public awareness about the importance of shopping sustainably. There are many factors that go into smart shopping, but it is not about buying the most expensive items. Although the pricier, more well-known brands often make products that are likely to hold up better and last you longer, those products may not have been ethically produced. I realize that it isn't always possible to access or afford products that have been created with morals in mind, but I urge everyone who is able to purchase the most ethical products that are available to them.

So, to close, I wanted to acknowledge Emma Watson's recent support of the app Good On You and her frequent support of wonderful environmental and feminist organizations. She said, "As consumers, we have so much power to change the world by just being careful in what we buy." Be a more conscious consumer. Shop smarter. Vote with your wallet. Support local brands and companies that share your values. Let's change the world one purchase at a time.