Capsule wardrobes, Primark hauls and everything in between. How do our fashion buying habits echo the socio-economic climate we live in?
As a woman on a fixed income who is trying to nurse herself off of fast fashion and big box stores, I find this question touches off a lot of thoughts and feelings, both for myself and others, and for the wider society I find myself in.
I wish that I could say I am a true conscious consumer who only ever buys from ethical or fair trade fashion designers or stores, but I’m sad to say that is pretty far from the truth.
What I can say for sure is that there was a major difference in my shopping habits when I lived in a small town with boutiques lining mainstreet under flower baskets, each with its own unique hand-lettered sign than there is now, where I am in a city full of hustle and bustle and far away from the parts of town where boutiques can thrive.
Without the friendship and brand loyalty that comes from visiting a store every day, I am less inclined to put down money on a pair of vegan leather boots which are too tight in the toes and instead buy a pair of $40 boots from Payless, without even talking to the manager.
Here, shopping isn’t about stories and threads of community. Here it is about efficiency, about convenience, about money.
Get your stuff and get out.
How can you even create the kind of environment that existed in my small town if shopkeepers here complain their door has opened too many times without a sale?
But even in my small town there were still problems that the boutiques faced; namely that in the age of convenience, people would still rather go to Walmart than shop there.
Stores still closed; a lingerie shop lasted less than a year, mainly because people would prefer to go to one big box store to buy their groceries and their bra than take a walking trip down the street. Fast fashion unfortunately has a hold on us and its grip is hard to throw off.
There are of course ways to combat the cold efficiency of the economics of fashion. For myself; I like to combine second hand shopping and keeping a capsule wardrobe, which allows me to create a wardrobe of unique pieces that last for a long time.
I prefer to invest in pieces like shawls (I adore shawls and they truly never go out of style) from a store brand new. A capsule wardrobe is wonderful because it allows you freedom of expression with accessories and the ability to constantly change up your style without overflowing your closet.
It allows you to focus around whatever you’ve chosen as your investment pieces (purses, coat, in my case shawls), and depending on how much or well you’ve invested in them, those items can last years.
It gives you the ability to choose your own style rather than just reflecting whatever whim the fast fashion companies are following up on now, and prevents you from looking silly by keeping you from becoming a victim of the latest trend.
Other ways a conscious consumer can challenge the fast fashion marketplace include bringing up alternative, ethical brands in daily conversations – if people don’t know they exist, they won’t buy them. Asking shop owners if they support fair trade and if not, why not?
I’ve even struck up conversations with store owners about things like human trafficking and how economics ties into that; how fair trade, while not solving the problem, at least empowers people into escaping situations where they are vulnerable to traffickers.
You might think this would result in being thrown out of a store, but actually these conversations have lead to some very warm friendships.
And that is the key. Instead of getting your stuff and getting out, think about where your garments have come from, who made them, who will benefit from your buying them, and where they will go when you’re done with them.
Speak up, ask questions and be part of the conversation.