A journey through fashion’s minefield (Part 1)

From fashion victim to ethical consumer

Frivolous and Superficial?

Fashion, set against the climate emergency, is seen as frivolous and superficial. It is an industry shaped by unthinking and unlimited production. It is linked to the abuse of workers’ rights and the creation of waste. 

However, fashion is undeniably a medium for the expression of creativity. Its products cater for basic human needs and also the pleasure of self expression. 

A look at my diary for 1976 shows how utterly seduced I was by fashion and how addicted I was  to the thrill of buying it even when broke:

Feb 23rd. Went into Tun Wells (27p on bus) and bought a jumper in Jaeger, some tights and a heavenly pair of green shoes in Russell and Bromley on my overdraft. I just hope it’ll be OK until can get some money into my account next Thurs. I ought to be ashamed of myself. But I’m not because they’re beautiful

March 18th. Walked into town, bought some fab new jeans in Topshop. Straight legged but nice. Also got a t-shirt in Jemima.

April 3rd. Got some nice culottes (they look like a skirt) and a leather belt in Fenwick’s and some mulberry coloured towelling in Liberty’s to make a dressing gown. Also some cotton lawn and a pattern to make a blouse. I’m determined to make a go of it. After all, sewing isn’t that hard.

April 19th. Caught a 73 bus to Ken High St. Found a lovely, reduced, warm shirt there but they wouldn’t take a cheque.

On a positive note, at least in the seventies people like me had the skills and the means to make our own clothes.

Fast forward to 2022!

Does fashion still exert a stranglehold on our minds and wallets?

No matter how many clothes I bought, I never seemed to have the right outfit for the occasion. So into town I would go, searching the rails in Richard Shops, Warehouse, Top Shop and the like.

It took me a while to realise that I  was just in it for the dopamine rush which hit me when I spotted a desirable dress or gorgeous jacket on the rail, took it to the till and handed over the cash.

The concept of allowing oneself a bit of ‘retail therapy’ when feeling anxious or down has since been exploited to the max by the clothing companies.

And I was not alone. Top Shop was crammed with young women on a Saturday, searching for something to wear that same evening (which might well have been shamelessly returned on Monday morning, after one wear, in a brazen attempt to get a refund).

In addition to the dopamine rush (which inevitably was short lived) I wanted to look cool, to fit in, to be admired – maybe I even half believed that cool clothes would transform my personality. 

Dopamine Rush

We now buy 60% more clothes than we did even 15 years ago (never mind in the seventies!) and keep them in our wardrobes for half as long. (Greenpeace calls time out for fast fashion).

Back in the seventies, most fashion victims probably outgrew their obsession with buying cheap short lived garments as they matured and needed to spend their money on other things (a house, a car…).

Now, however, the availability of credit and online shopping has led to the well documented phenomenon of buying to alleviate anxiety and stress among all age groups.

However, this kind of escapism has started to look distinctly inappropriate given the urgency of the climate crisis looming over us all. For fashion clothing companies and designers to start to look ‘uncool’ in this way must be their worse nightmare.

From being the dictators of cool to the epitome of what is wrong right now – unchecked materialism, carbon emissions, body fascism, abuse of workers’ rights – has rocked the industry to its core.

The fashion industry is beginning to take note of  the prevailing mood among consumers and to take onboard the need for sustainability in clothing production. It takes on average 10,000 – 20,000 litres of water to cultivate just one kilogram of raw cotton, depending on where it is grown.

For anyone living in, say, California or other drought stricken parts of the world, the need to find alternatives to buying new cotton clothing is beginning to become  blindingly obvious.

The fashion industry – along with other sectors – has been slow in its response. It has been accused of greenwashing and greenwishing (thinking it is doing a better job of becoming sustainable than it actually is). 

In producing such a glut of clothes, the fashion industry has not only damaged our environment, it has shot itself in the foot. Consumers are starting to be weary of the constant over production.

A cheap dress in the season’s new length or a mass produced coat in the trending colour have begun to lose their appeal. Some consumers are starting to realize that less really is more

If you want to make the transition into an ethical consumer, start by joining one of our events! We host clothing swaps that aim to reduce and reuse as much as possible. Find an event.

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