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For most of my life, shopaholic is a label I would have happily applied to myself. Shopping has always been a happy place for me. I have sought solace in the late night opening hours of Oxford Street’s shops after a tough day at work. I have laughed uncontrollably trying on ridiculous outfits while meandering the shops with friends on Saturday afternoons. I have felt a rush of delight at finding the perfect outfit for a friend’s wedding.
Despite the joy I have derived from shopping in the past, I have recently been on a journey which has left me ill at ease with my shopping and fast fashion habit. It is a journey I would like to share.
We used to have two fashion seasons a year: spring/summer and autumn/winter. Now the top high street brands introduce new collections weekly and often have daily drops of new products. Despite there being fewer than 8 billion people on the planet, it is estimated that we produced 150 billion new garments globally last year. In the UK we purchase 38 million new garments every week. This is what we mean when we talk about fast fashion.
There have been elements of the fashion industry, such as the treatment of garment workers globally, with which we have all likely been uncomfortable for some time. If a shop on the British high street is charging a tenner for a dress, it is difficult to see how the workers in that supply chain can have been properly compensated for their work.
This was certainly one of the first issues which started to tweak my conscience and dampen any joy that finding a ‘bargain’ might otherwise bring.
I still wanted to shop though, so I avoided the cheapest shops on the high street and my guilt about the ethics of fast fashion lessened.
But then the concern over the proliferation of our use of plastic started to garner headlines. Were all these synthetic fabrics we were clothing ourselves in equivalent to plastic, destined to pile up in landfill and remain there for centuries? Indeed, the recent trend for faux fur started to cause me particular angst. As I saw rail after rail of brightly coloured faux fur coats in the post-Christmas sales, I couldn’t help think about the article I read which suggested that polyester, which typically makes up faux fur, could take anywhere from 500 – 1,000 years to biodegrade!
I had already resolved to stop buying bottled water, so wasn’t it hypocritical of me to blithely buy lots of clothes that would long outlive me on the planet? I also started understanding the impact that microplastics are having on our oceans. These fibres are released into the environment every time we wash clothing made of synthetic fibres.
So I then started worrying again about how much clothing I was accumulating and where it would go when I was finished with it. But at least I could still enjoy purchasing clothes made of natural fibres, right?
Well no - Stacey Dooley and a very worthwhile BBC documentary quickly cured me of that delusion.
As well as educating me that fashion is the second most toxic industry on the planet, ranking only after the fossil fuel industry, I also learnt of the devastating impact cotton production has had on water supplies as producers try to keep up with the insatiable desire for more and more garments. Cotton is an incredibly water intensive crop and over production of it in Central Asia led the Aral Sea, once the fourth largest lake in the world, to completely dry up. So, overconsumption of natural fibres was clearly no longer an option either.
So, we have established there are serious ethical and sustainability questions surrounding our current consumption of fashion. Are there realistic steps we can take to make a difference? Is it still possible to indulge a love of fashion without forsaking our love of the planet?
Happily the answer is yes! I am certainly not perfect, still learning and still fighting a regular compulsion to shop, but I have found the following really helpful in my efforts to change –
There are some great slow and sustainable fashion resources which can help inform your shopping, remind you why you might not need a new outfit for that party on Saturday night and help you to find ways to appease your desire for new threads (hello swap shops!).
Overcoming a lifetime of shopping habits in a culture where people are increasingly wary to even be seen multiple times in the same outfit on social media requires a real change of mind-set. While this shift in mind-set is a challenge, the benefits– to your bank balance, your wardrobe space and most importantly, to the planet – make it a change worth making and one this former shopaholic will continue working on personally and championing publicly.
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