Shopping with thought
A trip to Oxford Street last weekend inspired me to write this. My boyfriend and I decided to spend the afternoon doing a bit of shopping - our mission was a pair of jeans each and some shoes (a late Christmas Present) & a coat for him.
Whilst we both like to look good, have our own style and I in particular, am very interested in fashion, neither of us are shoppers. In fact, we only ever go shopping if we have something specific we need to get, e.g. a gift or an item of clothing we NEED. Not to say we don’t have the occasional spontaneous purchase when passing a cool shop or market stall (there was a time in Paris when we both went a bit mad in a vintage shop…) but as a general rule, we both have a short attention span when it comes to shopping on the hight street.
The shopping experience can definitely be wonderful - strolling down a sunny street and popping into little boutiques, or the high end designer stores where there are more staff than customers and stepping inside is like stepping into another world entirely.
However, I want to focus on high street shopping because of the sort of fast and thoughtless purchases that it often leads us to make, although of course depending on you and the depth of your pockets, thoughtless purchases of clothing can really be made anywhere and at any price.
So, back to last weekend… Two things I experienced whilst shopping for the items we had set out to get:
Go into H&M to look for jeans for myself (Ben has already found his in Uniqlo). The shop is huge and I can’t find anything jean like to match the image in my head (grey/black skinny jeans, proper jeans not the jean jeggings you can get, with a high waist which fit me like a glove). I therefore start looking at the sale items, sifting through without really knowing what I am looking for at all. In this time, I pick up a bright red dress which is a size too big, not my style at all and really I only picked up for the colour. It is 80% off. I also pick up a pair of very floral patterned summer trousers. Not me, not something I need and definitely not right for the current cold weather. In fact I was only drawn to them having earlier seen a girl on the tube looking super stylish in a pair of similar trousers. They are 60% off. I then pick up another summery item, a long floral and frilly dress, the kind that was very fashionable last summer. Again not my style, not the sort of thing I would ever be able to wear unless invited to a baby shower, 70% off. After walking round the shop with these in my arms for 10 minutes, I bumped back into my boyfriend, thought why on earth am I even considering buying any of these thing which I will wear, at best, once? I put them all back and we walked out of the shop.
We go into Zara to again look for my jeans, and my boyfriend also tries to scope out a coat, he knows exactly the style he wants just needs to find it. Zara is currently having an end of season sale and the shop is totally manic. I spot some jeans, which have been picked up, unfolded and discarded, piled high like rubbish. Rails upon rails of clothes at insane discounts, tightly packed, falling off hangers, chucked on the floor and left to lay there, trodden on and forgotten. People are pushing, the queue to pay is almost out the door. I catch my boyfriends eye, we give each other a look and leave the shop immediately, this is followed by me ranting for 10 minutes about the state of consumerism and scary reality of fast fashion (the rant is what led me to write this blog post).
Now I am sure that a lot of you reading this can probably relate to both of these experiences.
When you know how much time and effort goes into creating an item of clothing or accessory, it is so upsetting to see clothes just thrown to the floor, the staff totally bored with (understandably) constantly picking them up. People’s ideas, labour and valuable raw materials, wasted.
So why do we feel the desire to purchase something that we don't need or even really want, and how can we change our way of thinking to go against this?
Mass production leads to mass consumption and mass consumption leads to mass production. It is a never ending circle that leads to a lack of unique items available to consumers on the market. ‘Devoid of original essence, copies are immediately devalued as shallow imitations, while the authentic object gains more prestige in its contrasting exclusivity.’ (Olalquiaga, 1999, p.16). The repetition and absence of originality results in the devaluing of items. Consumers do not have any reason to treasure the mass produced, because it is so easily replaced, therefore it is more likely objects will just be thrown away. (Excerpt from my dissertation: To what extent are emotional design and product attachment key to the success of sustainable fashion?)
We all need to address this. As designers, we need to design with this in mind. Can we create clothes that offer an increased possibility of a strong attachment between consumer and product, thus encouraging people to buy less and promote product longevity as a sustainable alternative, by reducing consumption?
This concept is reiterated by Mugge (2008); ‘When a person becomes attached to an object, (s)he is more likely to postpone its replacement or disposal. Replacement is a process that requires the abandonment of the relationship with the replacement product’ Roster (2001 cited in Mugge, 2008, p.17), and explains how the designer can play a vital role in the stimulation of sustainable consumption: ‘Designers interested in stimulating sustainable consumption need to understand how product design can affect the strength of the emotional bond with a product.’ (Mugge, 2008, p.19). (Excerpt from my dissertation).
As consumers, we also have a responsibility to shop with this in mind. To shop more thoughtfully, and buy less. This is not necessarily about buying less but more expensive pieces. In my opinion it is not really about cost, although you should always think about the labour which goes into a piece and whether the price reflects that. Always ask yourself, is the person making this getting a paid a fair wage?
It is in fact, as mentioned above, about longevity. Longevity and quality are related, and quality is often related to cost. However, something doesn’t have to be expensive to have longevity. If you love it, take care of it, and wear it over and over again, it will be long lasting, and that is the key here; to minimise waste.
The average woman wears a piece of clothing only 7 times! Before you make a purchase, think to yourself, can I wear this MORE than 7 times, can I wear this 70 times?
Is there a more expensive piece of clothing or accessory that you have wanted for a long time? You might be surprised at what you could save by not buying any new clothes for say 6 months, and instead being able to get your coveted item after all this time. Think how much that item will then mean to you after saving and looking forward to finally buying it. Another idea is to try swapping a few of your unwanted items in your wardrobe with a friend, so you both get some new clothes without having to shop for them. Can look at your wardrobe with fresh eyes, aiming to re wear, restyle and rediscover old pieces in your wardrobe?
Next time you go shopping, try and do it with a little thought. Do you need it and do you love it? The fashion industry responds to the consumer trends so if we stop buying so fast, they will stop making so fast. Consider brands trying to do good, either by using sustainable materials, being open about their supply chain or trying to challenge fast fashion by providing something special, something that you treasure, something which is a slower, more long lasting alternative.
Well done if you made it to the end! This post ended up much longer than initially planned but I am so passionate about this subject. My in depth research into this during university is what sparked me to want to start my own product range which challenges fast fashion and mass consumption by aiming to provide you with a piece which you will love and treasure forever. Emotional and thoughtful design really are at the core of my brand values. I really hope you enjoyed reading this and that it provides you with lots to think about! I wrote my university dissertation 5 years ago on this topic, so if you are interested in further reading do let me know as I would be more than happy to share it with you.
The True Cost (film)
Stacey Dooley Investigates: Are your clothes wrecking the planet?
I saw this on Instagram the other day and thought it sounded really fun a great way to remember your style, and re-appreciate your wardrobe instead of shopping for more.
Make sure all of your clothes in your wardrobe are clean.
Wear your clothing as you usually would but once it is time for each item to be washed again, wash the garment and put it away in a suitcase/ not back in your wardrobe.
Continue doing this and putting clothes you have worn away so that you are forced to wear clothes left in your wardrobe you would normally avoid.
You can re-wear underwear and basics and you don't have to wear any ballgowns or suits!
Don’t get out any clothes which have been worn already until every single item in your wardrobe has been worn.
If you struggle to wear certain pieces, give them a new life: Donate to a friend or charity shop, or perhaps customise into something you will wear.
Let me know how you get on if you decide to give this a go!
Images (in order)