• Kitty Jackson

Why We Need to Reflect on Fashion’s Culture of Overconsumption

Have you ever bought clothes in a ‘limited time only’ flash sale?

Have you ever bought an item of clothing that costs less than a meal?

Have you ever watched a Youtube clothing haul?

Have you ever bought anything on Black-Friday?

Have you ever taken part in a ‘buy two get the third one free scheme’?

It’s fair to say we’re being fed a culture of overconsumption- leading us into a constant desire for more in a way that tells us that nothing you buy will ever be enough. New clothes, new nails, new house accessories, the list goes on. This is something that has become integral to contemporary culture, particularly regarding the fashion industry. It can undeniably be described as toxic consumerism, given its negative impact on both the environment and our own mental wellbeing.

Back in 2017, Environmental Charity Hubbub’s research revealed that 47% of young women feel the pressure to wear a new outfit every time they go out- how could it be healthy for you to never feel satisfied with what you have or what you buy.

The problem is undoubtedly bred and encouraged by the ever-important role social media plays in our lives. It provides an unnaturally high exposure to people’s lives and results in constantly being able to see, and desire, what others have- often creating feelings of jealousy. This is accompanied by a market that increasingly caters to our expectation of instantaneity in fulfilling our wants and needs, which technology has advanced to both accommodate and encourage. Just look at Instagram’s new shopping function- you can now go straight to making a purchase by clicking on the desired item in an Instagram post. Such normalisation of instant gratification is a key element of toxic consumerism; the serotonin hit that comes from making a purchase only breeds further consumption. A Greenpeace report even suggests that approximately 50% of people say their ‘shopping excitement’ wears off within a day.

The manner in which this has come about- mainly facilitated by the decisions and actions of big corporations- may render us blameless as consumers, but we certainly can’t continue these behaviours. It isn’t good for us, or the earth. The concept of constant need for, and spending on, more ‘stuff’ feeds off and relies upon a perpetual dissatisfaction and discontent with what we already have, instilling in us that ‘this’ is not enough. This is a cause for concern when looking at a generation in which one in four people in England experience mental health issues each year. Moreover, the resulting impact on the environment which sees 13 million items of clothing thrown away each week in the UK alone, is of course, terrible.

Fast fashion has long moved past the traditional seasons around which the industry worked and designed. Where there were once spring/summer and autumn/winter collections, there are now approximately 52 “micro-seasons” each year. Hence, many leading fast fashion brands are releasing new designs every single week. Author Elizabeth Cline even found that H&M were reportedly receiving daily arrivals of new styles. This fast-fashion cycle is a leading contributor to our growing throwaway culture: buy whatever you want because you can replace it with something better - in a matter of weeks, or even days.

So how do we go about reversing this? We need to change the current mentality that surrounds fashion, and relearn a more traditional attitude, which valued the sanctity of clothing; the design, labour and time behind its creation. Our clothes should be valued and have a long lifespan, reasserting the message that one should only buy something that they are convinced they will love for a long time, rather than an item in which you may soon lose interest. As the clothes in your wardrobe have come and gone, think about all the clothes your parents still have. It is important that we find contentment with what we already have, and find life in clothes that we may otherwise replace.

If something seems a bit tired and old, add some embroidery or embellishments to make it feel up to date and bring it to life. If something is ill fitting, rather than looking for something else, get it altered (using the Sojo app of course!) If a piece simply feels that it has become boring to you, just restyling it, trying it out as part of different looks, will help you to find a new place for it. If you do need something new, you can also try swapping with a friend, in exchange for something you don’t find yourself wearing so much. Equally, clothing rental (with apps such a By Rotation) is a great way to indulge in the habit of needing something new and different but only temporarily. Not only does this save money and alter the mindset of purchasing something new, seeing someone else in your clothing can inspire you to view it in a different light, rendering it new and exciting upon its return.

Therefore, while reversing the behaviours of toxic consumerism may seem like a challenge, it is one that is very achievable, and both we and the planet will reap the benefits.

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