The throw-away fashion industry is fuelling an addiction crisis and it’s already here.
We know about the devastating impact fast fashion has on our environment. The sheer amount of plastic waste, the pollution - the fashion industry is one of five of the most polluting industries currently.
We place the blame of environmental disaster on shopaholics, retail therapists, people who spend and spend. More than ever, we need to step back and realise something: these people are addicts, and the fashion industry is taking advantage.
Fast fashion: the newest drug?
When the topic of fast fashion is raised, we think of environmental sustainability. We need to tackle the issue now, before we’re stuck, but the impacts are already being felt and not just in an environmental sense. It’s with the rise of shopping addiction.
Most of us are guilty of it, buying something because it makes us happy. It’s undeniable, that rush. The wave of excitement; the anticipation of a package at the door. The harmless window shopping, the scrolling through Boohoo, or ASOS. What happens when that 20 minutes of scrolling during a break, turns into five hours, 20 new tabs and a cartful of clothes you don't need or can’t afford.
Retail therapy is advertised to us, it’s marketed towards consumers as a fun past time. We put merit on how many clothes people buy in one sitting. Clothing haul videos are continuously going viral. These videos can reach 2.2 million views, or even 9 million views. Just searching ‘SHEIN haul’, we get back hundreds, even thousands of videos, easily reaching a million views. This isn’t even counting Tiktok and the 10.4 billion views in the haul hashtag.
Some of the people making these videos spend over £1000 per video, and it’s not just the consumer at fault here. Fast, cheap fashion brands advertise towards these markets. Take SHEIN; their entire advertising market revolves around influencers and celebrities talking about their clothing. They directly sponsor huge haul videos and influencers like Roxxsaurus get 200k views per video.
It's not just SHEIN doing this, ASOS does it, Boohoo does it. The aforementioned Boohoo, even shared a meme around retail therapy, joking about it being their new “addiction”.
“Shopping is cheaper than a therapy” but is it really?
It’s easy to joke about someone being a ‘shopaholic’. There are thousands, millions of jokes online of people being “addicted” to clothing: to shopping. The infantilising stereotype of a woman obsessed with shoes, to the point where she can’t help but shop, is found in pretty much every source of media: as “entertainment”.
But shopping addictions are becoming easier and easier to fall into.
Oniomania or clinically known as Compulsive Buying Disorder (CBD), is listed as a personality disorder categorised by “Excessive shopping and buying behaviour”. It can lead to distress, and further complications like debt.
CBD is suggested to effect 8-16% of adults in the UK, or 8 million people, although due to the increasing normalcy of excessive shopping and haul-culture, many people do not know they have an addiction. It is most commonly found in young women in their late 20s, however, is becoming increasingly found amongst young men.
There’s no real reason why CBD develops. It could be a way to deal with grief or stress. There is a high suggestion that it co-exists with other mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, or even an alternative to someone with pre-existing substance abuse issues. People who develop a shopping compulsion due to low self-esteem, or even FOMO - the fear of missing out. The anxiety around who’s wearing what. The idea that you need specific clothes to fit in, or even just peer pressure.
Pandemic of addiction
“Now in order to shop you don’t even have to get out of your pyjamas and leave your house." Ronald Fraser, head of inpatient detoxification at McGill University.
The Covid-19 pandemic has fuelled the problem. Not only has online shopping caused a boom in pollution, its also lead people into addiction. It makes sense. We are in a time of instability and fear; and people resort to safety measures to protect themselves and this can show itself in online shopping.
People began ordering more and more to chase gratification, and to give themselves something to look forward to: buying things made them happy, even for just a second.
What can we do?
But, it’s not just an individual task. We place blame on a consumer, on personal responsibilities. Yes, we all have a part to play in how our Earth survives; but we seem to have alienated people who are suffering, in the name of sustainability.
This doesn’t mean that everyone doing a £400 Boohoo haul has an addiction; the likelihood is people with shopping addictions are less likely to do hauls, but the culture surrounding clothing hauls and excessive spending of disposable income, helps to enable people into addiction.
It would be easy to condemn those who are buying clothes to make themselves feel better, but the real cause of all of this is the fast fashion brands themselves. It is through advertising and sponsorships that create a crisis, not just for our planet, but for those struggling.
If you feel your shopping habits are turning more into an obsession, or you becoming dependent on buying, there are resources to help. UK Rehab has a 24-hour confidential advice number, as well as Mind, and the Priory Group offers free addiction assessments which you can book here.