Content Warning: I will be discussing environmental issues and mental health.
Shopping till we drop?
A universal fact of the world is that we all buy clothes. Whether you are a reluctant shopper or a shopaholic clothes fanatic, we’ve all at one time been inside the retail monster that is… A department store.
There's a certain allure, to some of us, that a department store has. Better style means increased confidence. They sell not just the clothes but the kind of person that we want to be. This is the pull of consumer culture. If you buy this one product, add one more item to your shopping basket and it might change your life. The sad reality is that stuff can't really do this. It just leaves you with an emptier wallet and an emptier feeling in your chest.
“Young people have this feeling of complexity and ambiguity related to sustainability,” says Overgaard. “They all agreed that they thought of themselves as conscious consumers, but on the other hand, they were incentivised to buy more and consume more because of the need to stay trendy.” - The Guardian - Malthe Overgaard, a former researcher at Aarhus Business School.
These are fast times
Fast fashion means mass production and mass selling of clothes. There is an endless stream of new clothes for us to buy. There’s so much choice we try and buy what we can while it is there before it is gone forever. We impulse buy without thinking about it or buy without thinking of outfits - we buy for one time use.
This means when the frenzied clothes buying haze has faded, and the dust from the fashion stampede has settled, and we see what we have bought in the clear light of day - what we thought would actually suit us, doesn’t suit the way we thought it would. This leads to huge amounts of clothes being thrown away, ending up in landfills.
"Whereas Gen Z, a term used to refer to people born between 1997 and 2012, is typically thought of as socially progressive and environmentally aware, it is also a rapacious consumer of fast fashion, one of the world’s most polluting industries, often linked to human rights abuses in the global south." - The Guardian.
More stuff doesn’t equal more happiness
You have to find happiness from within, because the happiness from material goods fades, as it just fuels our insatiable hunger for more and more, leaving us unsatisfied.
Fashion is the third-largest manufacturing industry in the world and, by some calculations, it produces up to 10% of the world's emissions. - The BBC.
When we often buy clothes, we expect it will make us happy, and sometimes it does, but only temporarily. More often than not it can lead us to feel unfulfilled or craving more. This can sometimes turn into shopping addictions 'retail therapy', and compulsive buying disorder, co existing with mental health issues like anxiety, depression. The normalcy of excessive shopping and haul culture produces this, and Covid-19 hasn’t helped. It has fuelled our addiction to online shopping, further encouraged by fast fashion brands.
To ensure we buy and consume more, department and clothing stores specifically prey on the empty feeling that is left after the thrill of the latest buy, trying to sell the idea that if we have the perfect item of clothing, that will solve all of our problems. When we believe this fantasy and go out and buy more clothes, the vicious cycle begins all over again.
"The fashion industry is designed to be exploitative … the lack of transparency is what allows it to exist." - The Guardian.
The disastrous effects on the environment?
Our obsession with buying new clothes and throwing away old ones has disastrous effects on the environment, the production, manufactory, and transportation of clothes producing lots of greenhouse gases. The by-products of chemicals used to produce clothes are dumped in the ocean, as well as excess toxic waste.
If the effect of this on the environment wasn’t bad enough, also considering the humanitarian issues of this whole system - workers in poorer countries given unfair hours and low pay to produce goods that we throw away once we are bored with them.
"Fashion contributes up to 10% of global carbon emissions. It accounts for 20% of global wastewater. Fashion uses more energy than aviation and shipping combined. " - The BBC/UN/various sources.
"About 70 million barrels of oil a year are used to make polyester fibres. A polyester shirt has double the carbon footprint compared to one made from cotton.Polyester takes hundreds of years to decompose." - The BBC/UN/various sources.
How we can break free of consumerism?
"People of all ages keep the system going, or at least fail to challenge it. " - The Guardian.
"The truth is that we should all be held accountable, regardless of age, because we are all complicit." - The Guardian.
"This is a bad system that needs to change on all fronts.” - The Guardian, Aja Barber, author.
Even though clothing brands need to take responsibility for their part in this vicious cycle, there are small things we can do to make our shopping more sustainable. We can think seriously about outfits when shopping and whether we need this individual item or if we can leave it. We can reorganise our closets and continue wearing clothes until they actually need to be replaced. We can donate clothes we don’t want anymore. We don't have to continue to fuel this destructive cycle, and if we all work together, perhaps we can end it.