I’ve always had an affinity for retail therapy.
In my defense, I'm also very frugal, so the hobby has never had any major financial consequences. In fact, over the past few years I have realized that my love of thrifting, up-cycling, and reselling clothes has even more benefits than I originally intended (which was, admittedly, maintaining a unique, trendy, and affordable wardrobe).
This is where conscious consumerism, the title of today’s post, comes into play. Conscious consumerism is a growing movement that emphasizes making informed and ethical choices about the products we buy. It is, at its essence, an awareness of the impact our buying decisions have on the environment, society, and various communities.
For the purpose of today’s discussion, we’re going to focus on conscious consumerism specifically within the fashion industry. But before we can understand how to be conscious consumers, let’s look at how not to be:
Fast Fashion: What is it?
Think of fast fashion as the opposite of conscious consumerism (I’m a big fan of alliteration). This concept refers to the production and sale of inexpensive, trendy clothing that is produced rapidly, with new collections constantly being introduced into the market. It is characterized by a high turnover of styles and low production costs, allowing companies to sell clothing at affordable prices. However, the true cost of fast fashion goes beyond its price tag.
The rapid, large-scale production of products requires a large amount of energy, water, and raw materials. Many fast fashion brands prioritize quantity over quality, leading to the production of low-quality garments that go straight to the landfill after a few uses.
Additionally, the transportation of garments from (often oversees) manufacturing countries to retail stores (or your doorstep) results in significant carbon emissions. The extraction of raw materials, such as cotton and petroleum-based synthetic fibers, also has a negative impact on the environment by depleting natural resources.
Fast fashion brands often rely on exploitative labor practices to produce clothing at low costs; workers in developing countries often face poor working conditions, low wages, and long hours. The demand for cheap labor in the industry perpetuates a cycle of exploitation and can contribute to the perpetuation of poverty in these regions.
Speaking of negative cycles, the fast fashion model lends itself to a culture of overconsumption. The “easy come, easy go” mindset encourages consumers to constantly buy new clothes, resulting in the disposal of items that are still wearable, and thus contributing to the cycle of waste.
Phew. I’m not going to name names, but I’m sure a few brands in the fast fashion industry come to mind easily.
On a more positive note, there are plenty of (easy, actionable) ways in which we can make more sustainable decisions on a daily basis. Some of these, I’m sure you’ve heard of or may already do. If that is the case, congrats! If this concept is new to you, fear not - purchasing from fast fashion brands does not make you a bad person, especially if you are uninformed about potential alternatives.
If you are looking to upgrade your wardrobe, and become a more conscious consumer in the process, try out a few of these practices:
Investing in Quality: Rather than purchasing cheap and disposable clothing, opt for higher-quality garments that are made to last. This reduces the need for constant replacement and minimizes waste. Higher-quality products may carry a higher price tag up front, but they are made to stand the test of time.
Avoid Micro-Trends: When it comes to “standing the test of time,” micro-trends just don’t fit the bill. This concept refers to fashion fads that experience a quick spike in popularity and fall off just as fast. The rapid turnover of trends popularized by social platforms is what fast fashion brands thrive on.
Thrifting: There’s nothing like the thrill of a good find - buying second-hand clothing from thrift stores, online platforms, or swap events not only reduces waste but also gives clothing a second life.
Upcycling: Whether you’re crafty or not, transforming (or simply re-imagining) old or unwanted clothing into new and unique pieces will allow you to both personalize your wardrobe and reduce waste.
Supporting Local, Sustainable Brands: Make an effort to buy from small businesses that prioritize ethical and sustainable practices. These brands often use sustainable or recycled materials, pay fair wages, and prioritize transparency in their supply chains.
Renting and Swapping: Utilizing clothing rental services or participating in clothing swaps can be a great way to enjoy different styles without contributing to excessive consumption. If you have a fashion-savvy roommate whose wardrobe you’ve been eyeing, send them this post as a subtle hint that you’re looking to raid their closet.
All’s Well That Ends Well
I want to close this post by saying that I am by no means a saint. I never turn down a trip to the mall, and sometimes it’s hard to beat the convenience of ordering clothes online. However, I think it is important to educate ourselves on the impact of the everyday choices we make so that, when the situation arises, we are able to make an informed decision.
By making an effort to implement some of these practices, we can contribute to a more sustainable fashion industry, reduce waste, and support fair labor practices. Conscious consumerism is a means of encouraging ourselves to be mindful, not only of our personal style, but also of the social and environmental impact of our choices.