Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury-to me these have always been contemptible. I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best both for the body and the mind. – Albert Einstein
Recently I found myself in a busy shopping centre whilst my boyfriend looked for the best deal on Red Dead Redemption II. “What are you here to get?” he asked as we wandered through the weekend crowds and I confessed that I didn’t really need anything. However, I still managed to waste time looking around Superdrug, H&M, and Waterstones. There must be something that I want! Thankfully for my bank account, I left empty-handed on this occasion. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
We’ve all fallen in the trap of buying items that we don’t need. Clothes that clog up the wardrobe, shoes that rarely get worn and that curious colour of nail polish that seemed like a good idea at the time. With the term “fast fashion” becoming a hot topic, isn’t it about time that we modify our shopping behaviour to avoid damaging the planet irreparably? With Stacey Dooley reporting that around 300,000 tonnes of clothes are dumped in landfills each year, I’m wondering how we got to this point and what we can do to stop it.
Stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap
Fashion has never been so affordable. Retail giants such as Primark, H&M and Forever 21 have made it delightfully easy for us to invest in a trend without breaking the bank. They take all the financial commitment out of purchasing something new. I’m totally guilty of being bold in the changing room but then completely changing my mind in the cold light of day and never wearing something ever again. It’s no big deal, it only cost £5.99. Clothes have become a disposable commodity as opposed to an item of worth and value.
Thrifty purchases in the UK have a devastating impact, both ethically and to the environment globally. Workers in developing countries endure poor working conditions for a measly wage, whilst the sheer volume of cotton being mass-produced is poisoning and polluting rivers across central Asia. Speaking on ‘Fashion’s Dirty Secrets’, journalist Lucy Seagle explains that “we are producing over 100 billion new garments from new fibres every single year and the planet cannot sustain that.”
So how do we stop contributing to the problem? Here are a few ethical ideas for you to consider:
- Research sustainable fashion brands – In order to achieve a more sustainable approach to garment production, sustainable brands can be more pricey. Zara, H&M and ASOS have all released a relatively affordable sustainable collection for those who want high street prices, however, their ranges are quite limited.
- Charity shop chic – Whether you choose to explore a vintage boutique or take a chance on a high street charity shop, buying used is the easiest way to buy ethically. The Telegraph provides a great list of the best vintage stores around the UK.
- Get out your sewing machine – Adjusting and mending items of clothes will quite simply lengthen their lifespan in your wardrobe. Don’t be so quick to dispose of an item, see if you (or in my case, my mum) can breathe new life into it with some adjustments.
- Choose your fabric wisely – Fabrics that are essentially made from plastic such as nylon and polyester can shed microfibres into the water system when washed, harming ocean life. They also will not naturally biodegrade over time. Organic cotton, lyocell, and fabrics made up of recycled material are the way to go. This jumper from ASOS is made up of recycled polyester and plastic bottles. Amazing!
- Stay up to date – Journalist Lucy Siegle has created an app designed for people who want to know how ethical their favourite shops are. Not My Style is an app that will rate shops and brands based on their transparency concerning their factory working conditions. It’s only available on iPhone at the moment but will hopefully be coming to Android soon.
Shopping sustainably is great, but I’m wondering do we even need all this “stuff” in the first place?
Keeping up with the Joneses
Advertising has always played upon our subconscious desires. Whether we are targeted because we have a family, targeted because we are single, targeted because we are young or targeted because we are old, there’s no escaping it. We will always be a target for incessant advertisements and product placement. They manage to convince us that we “need” or “must-have” whatever they want to sell us and if we do buy it, our lives will be changed for the better.
Whilst researching sustainability I stumbled upon The Minimalists, two individuals who certainly don’t fall victim to the seduction of good advertising. Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are the subject of the film ‘Minimalism: A Documentary’ where they share their simple, non-materialistic lifestyle. With capsule wardrobes and owning just a few treasured items, the pair has shifted the focus of their lives away from the consumption of “stuff” to living in the moment, pursuing their passions and reclaiming their time. Their choice of possessions certainly falls into the category of quality over quantity, as they shun impulsive shopping habits in the pursuit of items and experiences with more meaning and value.
If ditching most of your worldly possessions is a bit of a radical step, perhaps consider trying out a minimalist wardrobe for size. Project 333 is a “minimalist fashion challenge that invites you to dress with 33 items or less for 3 months.” Project creator Courtney Carver says that “once you start dressing with less, pay less attention to what you are wearing, or not wearing and more attention to something more important.” Alongside project 333, Courtney offers approachable and realistic advice concerning all areas of a simple lifestyle and a truly decluttered life.
Much like fast fashion, gadgets are becoming increasingly more disposable. With phone and gadget companies upgrading their tech constantly, consumers are disposing of their old devices at an ever-increasing rate. Wired reported in 2014, that 70-80% of old and used gadgetry ended up in landfills. In truth, do we use all the features of our smartphones as it is? Is it absolutely necessary to get the latest version?
So many changes need to happen to make a significant difference to the environmental impact of the clothing and tech industries. Companies need to become more transparent regarding the sources of their raw materials and the treatment of their workers overseas. However, more importantly, our role as a consumer shouldn’t be underestimated. It really is up to us to consume less and make better choices because whilst the demand is still high for fast fashion and the latest tech, the major brands will show no sign of slowing down. Next time I find myself in a shopping mall, I’ll try to remember to ask myself – “what can I live without?”