Labelling people: how does it help if you’re a conscious consumer?
UPDATED 21ST SEPTEMBER 2023
What is the benefit of using labels? Why label products and businesses? Do we really need to? Read on to find out.
Does using labels help conscious consumers shop by their values?
With so many considerations and so little time, knowing what to buy these days can be tricky. Plus three quarters of us now say it’s important for brands to demonstrate a positive impact on society and the environment¹. It’s clear we want to make good choices. Many of us now choose to go beyond what we need or want, to consider how we can help change the world for the better somehow through our shopping. Adding labels or badges to founders and their products, from ‘Female founded businesses’ to ‘Made in the UK’, for example, can certainly help us make more informed decisions (and you can read more about our badges here). But is it right to label people to set them apart? And do labels on products make a difference?
The importance of product labelling: do we need product labels?
At Holly & Co, we decided to provide founder and product badges on our marketplace to give the small businesses that sell with us the choice to use them, as we feel strongly that people should be awarded the same opportunities in life. In a wonderful world where everyone was equal, things like sexism, racism, or homophobia didn’t exist, and people could trust corporations not to use sweatshops or put weird things in products, we wouldn’t use badges because we wouldn’t need them — but we do. Yet is it fair for other business owners who don’t fall into these categories?
Is it fair to label some founders (such as female founders or Black founders) and not others?
Many small businesses across the UK are struggling, so is it fair to give more exposure to some business owners just because of the colour of their skin or who they choose to sleep with? Absolutely. Because it’s these very reasons that mean they are distinctly disadvantaged to begin with.
At Holly & Co, we champion all small businesses — it’s why we set up Campaign Shop Independent back in 2017. We are passionate supporters of male founded businesses and of white entrepreneurs, too. Yet not all businesses are treated equally, and it’s this that we are trying to help rectify.
- Why should female founders receive dramatically less funding simply for being female?
- Or Black entrepreneurs, be four times less likely to receive bank loans, overdrafts and credit cards?²
- Or people who identify as being neurodivergent, eight times less likely to be unemployed?³
By highlighting these businesses specifically, we can shine a light on the inequality that exists to be fairer and help level the playing field. That’s what fairness is: the impartial and just treatment or behaviour without favouritism or discrimination — which is clearly not what is happening.
What is the benefit of using labels?
There are many reasons to suggest that labelling is a good thing, and if we like to think of ourselves as ‘conscious consumers’, they are important…
- For customers, clear labelling can give visibility of who we are choosing to support and why.
- Labels can help us understand the differences in the needs, cultures and personalities of the people behind the businesses we shop with. And understanding who we’re shopping with means we’re not just ‘buying stuff’. We become activists, standing up for what we believe in to change the world for the better.
- Labels allow us to support businesses that prioritise social responsibility, environmental stewardship and inclusivity, among other things.
- They help show the provenance of the products we’re buying; where they are from, what’s in them or how they are made, for example. It helps avoid greenwashing by showing something isn’t just slightly recycled but made of 100% recycled materials and so on.
- Labels also help drive money directly back into communities that have been disadvantaged, which many people want to help do.
- For founders, labels can help to ‘level the playing field’ when they have been distinctly disadvantaged due to lack of funding, lack of exposure or other support.
- They can help business owners feel proud of their achievements, often despite the odds, and able to ‘own’ their identity.
- For marketplaces, they help hold us accountable to ensure we’re offering the same opportunities to all.
There are negative sides to labelling too though. It can feel reductive or isolating even, and there can be stigmas attached to certain ones, which is why people should always have a choice of whether to use them or not. But don’t the pros outweigh the cons?
The difference labelling makes to founders; the power it gives to shoppers
At Holly & Co we’re proud to be a female owned business, for example. Especially after the disproportionate difficulties it took to become one. Female-led companies make up just 16.8% of all UK companies and attract a fraction of the investment achieved by their male-led counterparts, so it’s fair to say we’ve fought to be here.⁴ That makes us even more proud to be one of the brands leading change. But can women in particular, do more to help?
Voting with your wallet: not just shopping but shopping with purpose
85% of the household spending is done by women, so we actually hold immense influence.⁵ Our decisions can shape industries, and contribute to a more just and sustainable world. By aligning our purchases with labels that mirror our values, we vote with our money. Each badge becomes a ballot cast for a business that resonates with our principles, enabling us to channel our consumer power toward positive change. We just need to use this power wisely.
How was our labelling system set up? Working with The Other Box
The independent founders who sell on our site can choose to add badges (or not if they’d prefer it) to help accurately describe who they are or what they sell. Each badge comes with strict criteria, so founders can only use them if they are able to prove they are true when tested — and they remain 100% accountable.
We worked with The Other Box (a company that focuses on unconscious bias, diversity, equity and inclusion training) as well as relevant members of our community, to create our badges. The idea is to pioneer a way of shopping to support our beliefs as a community.
We're putting our best foot forwards with good intentions, but learning as we go
For example, the names we’ve given the badges have been highly debated and are not without their limitations. Not everyone identifies with certain terminology or agrees with using acronyms to try to sum up people — but other people found they didn’t identify with the existing categories and preferred others. It’s about personal choice. Plus the more we learn, the more we will evolve them. As Jack Guinness said to Holly in his Conversations of Inspiration podcast episode, “I think if you're scared about talking about sex or gender or race, it's much better to try and have those conversations with a good heart and maybe mess up sometimes than not have those conversations at all.”
What are the badges?
You can find more information on, and the criteria for, our founder badges here. We also have four product badges to show which are vegan friendly, made of recycled materials, made by hand or made in the UK (and you can read an article written by our founder Holly Tucker MBE, ‘Why I’m so proud of UK made products’, to find out more about the latter).
In conclusion, labelling people and products holds significant potential for conscious consumers. Labels empower us to make informed choices that align with our values. We have the opportunity to shape the future and drive positive impact through the choices we make — one label at a time. Let’s shop wisely.