Last week, I Tumbl’ed upon a riveting infographic labeled The Making of a Designer Tee. The graphic focused on the markups of designer clothing. When I first saw the scale of these markups, I was in disbelief, even slightly enraged. But then a few of the comments helped level my head. The proponents’ argument went something like this:

Markups exist in every business and industry out there. They exist so businesses can be businesses and turn a profit. Not to mention, so the people who do have a dog in this fight (designers, retailers etc.) can pay their bills, buy food and pay their employees. Maybe tees shouldn’t cost $15 because it generally means someone on the supply side isn’t getting paid fairly and perhaps even ethically.

This got me thinking. Surely markups are critical to a business’s success, but citing other industries or brands and their mountainous margins does not justify the act. One could argue that this follow-the-leader rationale is exactly what got us into the economic mess we’re struggling to offset today. However subsidizing clothing costs through negligent, often unethical supply side practices (cheap labor, disregard for the environment etc.) is not the answer either.

So how do we find a happy, sustainable medium here? One where the people who manufacture quality things can still earn a living and stay competitive without compromising on their supply-side activities. A medium where markups exist, but exist for proper reasons like fair pay and a safer, more conscious supply chain rather than greed.

This question of a happy, sustainable medium perplexed me for several days. I wasn’t sure I had the credentials to propose a real solution. It sounded like a problem for some of the world’s top economists and environmentalists to solve. But then it hit me.

I was reading an article on how Verizon decided to ditch its new $2 consumer fee after customer uproar. The article also noted how Verizon is the biggest U.S. wireless operator and how Bank of America recently decided to abandon a $5 fee for debit card users after considerable consumer protest as well.

My judgment was off – the problem of how we can strike a happy, sustainable medium was one that consumers could tackle. In fact, we may be the only one’s suitable to solve it. We have the credentials and momentum behind us. The Verizon and BofA cases demonstrated exactly the proactive type of consumerism we needed to continue to embrace. And how if we become loud enough, we have the power to reverse even one of America’s largest company’s decision process.

If we want to see a way of business that’s beneficial both socially and economically, we’re going to need to proactively demand it. If we don’t feel something is right, we need to speak out and act against it. If we’re going to build a culture of more positive consumerism, we’re going to need to stop supporting the brands that aren’t in line with this way of thinking and start using our wallets as a tool for positive change.

Illustration by Rachel Marshall