By Karen Bryony Rose
It’s Wednesday evening and Jenna from work has invited me out for Friday night drinks. Having riffled through my bulging and frankly disorganised wardrobe, I’ve come to the conclusion that I have nothing to wear.
I scroll through the websites of my two favourite online retailers. With their clever algorithms, clothes tailored to my buying habits pop up in colourful tiles before my eyes. The range of options for delivery is huge and I settle on next day delivery.
Hasn’t this become almost second nature? We identify what we want and then it’s delivered to us where and when we want it. However, the cost of our buying habits extends much further than monetary value. The fact is our clothes cost much more than we think; they are costing the earth.
We’re switched-on consumers, we know the ins and outs of grabbing a bargain. We’ve read the screaming news headlines on CLIMATE CHANGE EMERGENCY. And yet we still struggle to say good bye to our ASOS account in favour of more ethical practices.
To understand why we’re struggling to change, we must first examine the benefits our addiction gives us.
- We frequently scroll through the ASOS website on our commute. We select our target and with a few clicks it’s purchased. Cue hit of the ‘happy hormone’ dopamine. Naturally we seek this ‘shopper’s high’ again and again.
- We experience another high when we accrue ‘likes’ on our Instagram shopping haul photos and this makes us feel included and connected to our fashion peers.
- We like to bag a bargain and ASOS is affordable and accessible. Shopping picks us up when we are down.
The psychological benefits of our online shopping addiction is just one piece of the puzzle. There’s a combination of reasons for our reticence to choose more ethical brands, however they are linked by a common thread; the necessity to change our behaviour.
The task ahead is too big
We’re smart, switched on consumers and we’ve heard the climate emergency message loud and clear but the scale of the task before us is intimidating.
Consequently, we believe that our actions won’t make a difference. How will changing our buying habits help the global emergency now?
Believing that our actions won’t make a difference is a misconception. It’s also an excuse that we can no longer afford to hide behind. Every change that’s ever happened has been the result of one person with an idea and the conviction to make it happen.
It’s another item for the to-do list
The fact that I’m finding this uncomfortable to write suggests that this is possibly the most ‘first world’ of excuses. Nevertheless, in true northern style, I’m willing to say it how it is.
Our frenetic 24-7 lives makes changing our buying habits yet another thing to add to our schedules.
I’ve already switched to buying my fruit and veg from the green grocer around the corner instead of purchasing everything at the supermarket. I source organic and plastic free sanitary products from an ethical retailer and often travel to three different stores to buy other eco-friendly household items.
I plan my shop with almost military precision. It takes time.
The fizzing feeling of guilt in my stomach as I type this makes me ashamed to recall my past one stop supermarket shops where everything was encased in plastic and multi-packs invariably lead to food waste.
Like with most changes the first cut is the deepest but making practical changes to our buying habits is not beyond the realm of possibility for more of us. Sacrificing our time to help save our planet is long overdue.
We’ve become detached from the natural world
Every shiny new gadget takes us further away from the natural world. Clothing delivered to our door and food in plastic wrapping, adds to our increasingly sanitised existence and leads to further disconnection with our planet.
It’s a bit like when you stay in a hotel; you don’t find joy in the furnishings, there’s no connection. In short, it’s not your home. The hotel is no worse off for our detachment, but as we pass through our time on earth, our ‘take, take, take’ approach causes real harm.
Our consumer culture is built on convenience
In the West we could have created any number of worlds, instead we chose a capitalist consumer culture built on convenience. This culture has bred complacency and a sense of entitlement.
We can order a coffee to be delivered to our door within hours, our entertainment is downloaded and streamed instantly. We’ve been swept along by fast fashion and we’ve become complacent in our buying habits.
The big brands’ targeted advertising has made us believe that our lives will be better if we own another pair of skinny jeans in this season’s must have colour.
Convenience has become the norm, yet it’s up to us to recognise this and reduce our reliance on convenient consumer habits.
We’ve heard the message but do we connect with it?
We’ve seen the headlines and we’ve read the science but how far have we connected with the stark climate emergency message? For real change to occur, it is vital that we connect with our reason for change on a personal level, otherwise it remains an abstract concept and a problem for somebody else to solve.
The metaphorical rug was pulled from beneath me a few months ago when I viewed Mandy Barker’s Our Plastic Ocean exhibition. At first glance the images showed sea creatures floating in a dark ocean void but on closer inspection revealed a mass of coloured clothing and material debris.
Accessibility of ethical alternatives
The lack of accessibility of ethical alternatives is a major reason our online shopping addiction persists. Where are the more ethical brands and what are the larger retailers doing to develop ethical practices?
The range of ethically produced clothing doesn’t rival the vast range of clothes available from the larger online retailers.
Understandably sourcing material and ethical production causes costs to increase. The promise that an item will last years often outweighs the initial outlay for many people, but for others the price of ethically produced clothing remains a real barrier.
There is a chance we’ll feel overwhelmed by the need for us to change and to change quickly but there are practical changes we can make.
Five changes you can make right now
Think before you buy
Ask yourself will I wear it more than once? Will it go with other items in my wardrobe?
Choose capsule pieces
Buy quality items you can pair with in season fashion.
Back in January a friend of mine decided she wouldn’t buy any new clothes for a whole year. She’s using the money she’s saved to fund a trip to Italy.
Take unwanted clothes to a charity shop or organise a clothes swap with friends. Attend the Finders Keepers Clothes Swap Party hosted by Mindless Mag at the end of this month.
Big up the brands who are doing it right
Share your ethical purchases on social media. Support independent retailers.
The human race has evolved so successfully because of its ability to adapt. Reaching zero net greenhouse gas emissions will require changes to the way we produce clothes. Most of us cannot control the production of clothes but we can change the way we consume them.
The climate emergency can’t wait for ethical practices to become mainstream, therefore consumers must exercise their buying power by voting with their feet and supporting more ethical initiatives.
Changing our thinking before we take action is no longer feasible, after all action begets action. We must do what we can now.