Let me ask you a question right away.
What is something that you own, value and care about a lot?
Are any particular objects coming to your mind?
Alright, now, I want to keep those in mind for the rest of the text. I promise it will make sense!
For me, the most valuable things I own aren’t necessarily the most expensive. Instead, these are things that I connect with stories, memories, and even relationships. Some of them were passed on to me, some I thrifted, and some I remember precisely the place where I bought them.
I wonder if it’s the same for you. The more I talk to people about buying, fashion, taste, and consumption in general, the more I understand how we value things. Many of us appreciate something not just because of its practical function but because of something more than that. Something that’s beyond the product or an object itself.
Some consumer preferences surveys confirm this and take it further. According to one, consumers are more likely to support and purchase from a purpose-led business. In other words, a business with a clear message, a story and offers some value beyond their selling product. Other studies even say that 87% of us will return to such a business. Many studies conclude that we care about how businesses impact and treat people, the environment, and communities.
That makes a lot of sense.
In times of immense social and environmental instability, supporting and powering the economics that helps rather than fuels the crisis feels like the right thing to do. It’s a way of choosing how we want things to look like. And I’m sure you’ll agree that we want a more just, safe, and healthier world. Businesses can help us build a path to this world, not destroy it.
Right. But what do small businesses have to do with all of this?
Scaling down as an answer
I’ll start by broadly defining the purpose-lead businesses as businesses doing something good for us and the planet are important. I’ll leave the discussion of what is “a common good” for another time.
For the moment, I’ll focus on the fact that this idea shifted from a very niche market to a wider-accepted strategy. Considering the (slow but substantial) change in international politics and the growing global awareness, “doing something good” is no longer a business choice. It’s a matter of business survival. For example, postponing to reduce a company’s carbon footprint might actually become a financial risk for businesses. And considering the above-mentioned growing consumer demand for a positive impact, it’s not surprising that most global companies are changing their narratives and strategies.
That’s a good thing. I genuinely believe it’s crucial to have big companies changing their ways. Business as usual doesn’t work not only because the world is changing but because the industry accelerated and profited from these changes. So, I am all for big companies to rethink and restructure their ways.
However, at least at the moment, big companies aren’t very likely to go deep into this. Let me stick to the fashion industry to explain this.
The industry giants are indeed adopting new ideas and even doing some serious moves. I know I often talk bad about fast fashion companies. Still, the thing is that some are making significant shifts in using better fabrics, progressing in transparency, and recycling part of their clothes. I don’t want to discredit these moves. I also understand that these changes are harder to reach in multinational companies, and I know that dedicated people are fighting inside these companies. I spoke to those people, and I fully respect their work and efforts.
But, as I said elsewhere, those companies will never be sustainable. At least not until they fundamentally change their business. You see, these companies are adopting sustainability as a consumer trend because it helps them sell more. And that’s the ultimate goal of the giant companies: to profit more. Thus, all the greenwashing, btw.
I’m not saying big companies can’t change. But I am saying that their “change” still revolves around figuring out how to keep and grow their profit at all costs. The reality is that we cannot, ecologically, resource-wise, and socially, afford a growth of these proportions anymore.
Instead, I believe in the strength of small businesses. We need to scale down the business and economy to navigate the global and climate changes.
In short, that’s the power of small businesses.
I’ll never stop saying it: Support small businesses!
In my slow fashion journey, I learned that small businesses truly drive the change. Of course, just because a company is small in size doesn’t mean it’s always ethical or sustainable. I learned this the hard way, and I want to make it clear. Still, small businesses often care more because they are closer to the community. Many of them also directly impact the community and can contribute to the economic and social strengthening of the same.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionally impacted small businesses: over 60% of small businesses reported a negative impact, and 21% of them are concerned about ensuring their staff worked. Yet, many of them have prioritised the planet and people over profit, even during the pandemic. This commitment is their power. Though some have not survived the pandemic, such companies exemplify how a business can be a force for the present and future we want.
Because of this, supporting small businesses rather than big ones is crucial is perhaps more important today than ever.
When we decide to purchase something, we create a demand for that product. It may not seem like a big thing at first, but every purchase is like a vote for the kind of service or product we want. That is basically the idea behind voting with your wallet. We are never just consumers, and our purchase is always political. And when you buy from a small business, you are more likely to know where exactly your product has been made and by whom. Additionally, you are likely to hear the story behind a product and why it exists. It’s never just a product that you’re buying!
But that’s just a tiny part of it.
I think that “voting with our wallets” is vital if we have the economic power to do so, but we have the power much beyond that. Let’s not forget that we are also educators, artists, parents, writers, entrepreneurs, traders, designers, nurses, innovators, travellers, citizens, etc. While most of us have to consume and buy, especially fashion, we have the power that goes further than buying. And we can support businesses in other ways than just shopping from them.
Moving away from thinking that the only way to support someone is through buying helps us all participate in an economy that only centres around money and profit.
Thus, there are different ways to support a small business that’s doing good. Be that your local bakery, farmers association, a start-up, or a small fashion brand, they will notice your support.
Here are 10 ways you can do this!
10 ways to support a small business
1. Follow them on social media
Small businesses are often about the community, and in today’s age, this usually translates to social media. The best thing is that many business owners actually want to engage with their audience and listen to them.
So following them on social media is a great (and free) way to give them more visibility. Plus, this is a way to find out more about the company.
2. Share their content
Similar to the previous one, you can also share the content from small businesses. Many small brands use their social media to speak about more than just their products, and you can support that by sharing. Like with the first tip, this is a way to give them more visibility and help others discover them.
3. Reach out to them
A great thing about small businesses is that they are usually more approachable. Often, you can speak directly to the owner, so use that. If you have any questions or suggestions, reach out to the businesses. In most cases, they’ll be happy to help out, which is a sign that they are doing a good job.
4. Give feedback and suggestions.
If you like something that a company is doing, let them know! Your praise won’t get unnoticed, and it may encourage them to do even better. The same goes for when you notice a company doing something you don’t like.
As someone working with many small businesses in fashion, I have seen companies extending their sizes, hireling diverse models, switching to recycled packaging and so on. All because of the feedback they got from their communities. Just remember that no small business is perfect, and some things might not be immediately possible for them.
5. Write a review
If you have bought something from a small company, write a review. It takes a couple of minutes, but honest reviews go a long way. Apparently, 9 out of 10 people read reviews before making a purchase. So, leave one and let others know why a company is worth buying from!
6. Recommend their products
Another thing to do if you bought something from a company is to recommend them to someone directly. But even if you didn’t buy anything from them, but you like the company, share them with someone who might. I do this with many small brands I like, but their products are not my style (or I’m currently not looking for something they sell). Word of mouth is powerful!
7. Sign up for their emails
Many businesses have their newsletters, and signing up for them is one of the easiest ways to support them. This is a way to stay in touch with a business, reach out to them directly, and get valuable information, news, and even discounts.
8. Offer your skills or services.
Offering help to your local business can be a wonderful thing. I’ve done this a few times to my local zero-waste shops and non-profits, and it always paid back. And while volunteering can be great, it doesn’t always have to be free help. Many businesses need marketers, photographers, designers, accountants, etc. If you have a skill some are looking for, reach out to them.
9. Partner with them
If you have your own business or are in a position to make business decisions, try to see if you can partner with a small business. Instead of working with a bigger and more established company, work with local makers, artisans, and start-ups. Sometimes, one good partnership can be crucial in their business journey. And trust me, as someone who works with many small businesses myself, it can be a wonderful experience for all sides.
10. Buy from them
I mean, I had to put this one here too. But I put it as the last on the list on purpose because it’s just one of the things you can do to support a small business. So, if you can, buy something from a small brand instead of a big one. Even if it’s not regular or it’s just a one-time purchase, it all counts. And from my own experience, I guarantee you that every time you buy something from a small brand, the owner does an actual happy dance
If you’re looking for some brands to shop from, I recommend these.