The Misconceptions of Conscious Consumerism
"It is the consumeristic mindset, raised to the global scale, that now threatens us with climate breakdown, catalyses a sixth great extinction, imperils global water supplies, and strips the soil upon which all human life depends" -George Monbiot
Can you sew?
Me, barely. I can mend the holes in my clothes, attach a patch, hem the bottom of my pants, and sew on buttons. It ends there. Am I trying to learn more? Absolutely. Patagonia's CEO, Rose Marcario said it best: Repair is a radical act.
But why is repairing our clothing, the garments we have worn day in and day out, used as forms of self-expression and as status symbols, or simply for the necessity of keeping our fleshy suits warm and safe from the elements, a counter-culture act of a de-facto fashion Luddite? Because it makes us question our personal roles and culpabilities within a system that preaches a doctrine of overindulgence. The glue that holds our capitalist complex together.
"Consumption is the backbone of the American economy—which means individual conscious consumerism is basically bound to fail." Alden Wicker
I receive many questions from readers about how they can make the shift to purchasing ethically without going bankrupt in the process. The answer to this question lies in our reasonings --and let's face the facts: justifications-- for making purchases. I wholeheartedly admit to my personal and skewed internal rationalizations for making unnecessary purchases and the voids to which I have used them to fill.
There is a radical change that needs to happen. A mental and physical shift towards not just conscious consumerism -- a movement where the act of consumption is esteemed-- but to a place where how we hold what we have in higher regard to that which is new and likely not required. We need to move away from excessive consumption, from the latin word "consumere", meaning use up, eat; waste.
“70% of GDP in the US is based on household consumption. So all the systems, the market, the institutions, everything is calibrated to maximize consumption...The whole marketing industry and advertising invents new needs we didn’t know we had.” Halina Szejnwald Brown
But how do we foster the shift while not feeding the consumerism beast? This isn't just for those of us recalibrating our closets on a budget, but those of us who want to break the world --and ourselves!-- free from mindless consumption.
By being more material.
We need to VALUE the materials used to create what we need. The gear we use to survive, thrive, and sustain our bodies, beings, communities, and world.
We need to be treasurists.
We need to moon over and honour the hands, plants, pleats, minerals and gems that go into our goods. Value how they help you, protect you, and fill your heart.
Let the fire of this revelation shine the shit out of the amazing matter and circumstances already burning in your life and let it guide you to keep paying mad homage to your artist homies.
The artists that colour our lives and social feeds with adornments and pieces that celebrate our high standards for quality and, of course, range of motion. We want to move freely and move efficiently in clothing that embodies not just our skin suits but the way we personally impact and influence the space around us.
- Shop consignment/used or create a clothing exchange with friends. You know that friend who has that amazing denim jacket hanging in their closet that they never wear? Consider offering them a trade! You might both be surprised with what you come home with.
- Buy less but buy better! The co-founder of Free Label was recently interviewed (here) and shared this beautiful piece of wisdom: "If you commit to buying fewer garments and choose high quality and ethically made pieces, you feel a much deeper connection to the things you wear." I couldn't agree more. We need to stop looking at fashion as a disposable product and start treating each piece as a treasure or an investment. This article in the Atlantic gives the tip to spend at least $150 on each item of clothing. If you consciously make the decision to buy individual quality pieces less often, you will eventually end up with a wardrobe stocked full of garments that are built to last.
Take heed from Homer Campbell (righthand column) and wear your overalls everyday for three years (except Sundays, of course).
- The radical act of repairing. Learn some basic sewing skills or get to know a tailor in your area. There are many talented folks our there who can make the repairs that are out of your scope of practice. Bonus to buying higher quality garments? They are easier to repair! I make no claims that expensive clothing doesn't fall apart eventually, but because quality and craftsmanship of each piece was considered before profit, you are left with something that when life happens and you get a rip here or a fallen hem there, you can easily find a remedy.
One thing in particular that I love about Patagonia is their Worn Wear initiative. They have the largest garment repair facility in North America where they employ 45 full-time employees who mend people's much loved Patagonia pieces. They also have a mobile repair truck that travels the country! Check out the Worn Wear Stories on Instagram here and watch this BEAUTIFUL video below.
- Don't flip the whole closet at once. Understand that this is a process. So what if your favourite pants aren't organic hemp? If your closet is full of pieces that you love and wear regularly, keep it up! Replace each item piece by piece and when necessary or financially possible. Fact: no one cares if you have been wearing the same pair of pants five out of seven days a week. If they do, their insecurities aren't your problem. Just give them a high-five and strut away in your well-loved duds.
When you are ready to make a new purchase, ask yourself this important question: "Is this replacing a negative in my life?" Look into updating your closet when either what you have doesn't flaunt your bad-ass body like it should, can no longer be repaired, or doesn't resonant with the person you've become. The problem with our consumer-based society is that we are indoctrinated with advertisements of beautiful people whose new clothing appears to solve all their problems and celebrities who never seem to wear the same thing twice. This is the epitome 'waste couture'. A facet of our throw away culture that it is unattainable and completely unsustainable on a global scale. Consciously consider each purchase that you make as a radical act against a broken and toxic system.
- Shop sales and sign up for e-newsletters and follow the labels that you love on social media. Most brands have off-season sales (not just on Black Friday, after the holidays, or end of season sales anymore!). Many have online discounts and promo codes that they might only make available through their newsletters or for their social media followers. The makers and the labels that I mention below are full of real people making real changes to the industry. Consider following and supporting them because they are fighting against a rough tide in the fashion industry --the second most polluting industry in the world!