Consumerism is an extensive and far-reaching topic, that needs to be broken down into different sections. It is about the customers and their contribution, but also about influencers and promoters of over-consumption and its consequences. It is time to break the cycle and to start putting more emphasis on the quality of products, not the quantity. This article is going to focus on the fashion industry in particular and how retail therapy behaviour is being perpetuated by modern society.
The damaging effects of consumerism
The way in which current consumer society is operating is not working for the environment. We are currently overusing Earth's natural resources by more than 70%. The fact that more people are able to enjoy the benefits of buying goods beyond their essential needs is largely positive, but it is extremely damaging to the planet. If all countries on Earth matched the consumption of America's average we would need 5.2 Earth equivalent planets to support us. This is a scary figure and there is an ever increasing demand for energy, food, electronics, clothing and many more everyday items.
Retail therapy is a consumer habit that is engrained in our society and can be damaging to the environment. Retail Therapy is described as the practice of shopping in order to make oneself more cheerful, where you don’t specifically need to buy anything, but instead, need a distraction from distress in other areas of your life. It can give a buzz initially but can bring some undesirable effects. According to a Greenpeace survey, 50% of shoppers reported that the buzz and happiness of retail therapy would wear off within a day, with guilt and unhappiness then following. The more we impulse buy, the more our wardrobes fill up with future waste that is destined for landfills, causing more damage to the environment.
Social media influencers
Influencers are a relatively new concept and are a sign of the changes that have taken place within our society. With social media becoming an extremely important part of our lives, people now have access to a platform from which they can advertise, increase awareness and have an influence upon their followers’ decision making. Studies show that more than 70% of people are likely to buy certain clothing if it has been recommended by someone they follow on social media. Fashion brands are maximising this opportunity by collaborating with influencers, and in so doing, they ensure that their products are promoted on social media and are viewed by a vast number of followers.
Influencers are continuously promoting unsustainable fashion habits, leading to a continuation of the unhealthy consumption cycle. Some influencers are using their platforms to promote positive actions. Grace Beverley, who is trying to make sustainability mainstream, has created Tala, an activewear brand with sustainability at the forefront, creating clothing using environmentally friendly manufacturing methods and fabrics. However, there are also influencers who are not treating sustainability as a priority which is a shame as they have a large following and would be in a position to positively influence decision making.
Take Molly-Mae for example, who has become the Creative Director of Pretty Little Thing, an extremely popular fast-fashion brand. Her achievement is huge as she was one of the first social media influencers to reach this position. Although the company is trying to take steps to become more sustainable, unfortunately on her Youtube channel (currently with 1.63 million subscribers), there are regular hauls of clothes from fast-fashion brands, all promoting overconsumption.
This is just one of many examples of how influencers can promote mass buying of clothing. Companies need to change how they produce and market their clothing, but the continuous promotion of new fashion trends, makes the sustainable change in favour of the health of the environment harder to achieve. If influencers such as Molly-Mae gave more emphasis to promoting sustainable fashion brands and the importance of ethical consumption, then knowledge and awareness around the topic would undoubtedly increase.
Positive change can happen. We as a consumer need to pay much closer attention to the full lifecycle of the products we use and to view old products not as waste but as a resource that can be reused or recycled. Now, with a new generation, there is hope for a better future. People's awareness of the need for a sustainable approach is growing, and positive change is happening. Protests from activists such as Greta Thunberg give a platform for environmental action to grab the attention of world leaders. There is more awareness now about overconsumption and its consequence on the environment. These sustainable changes give a positive glimpse of what we can achieve, to ensure the future protection of our planet.