I want to start with asking you a question. If buying clothes would be an addiction; on a scale of 1 to 10, how much of an addict would you be?
During my research for this post, I came to realize that a lot of our behavior as consumers of fashion is relatively similar to the behavior of drug addicts. We are looking for instant and cheap gratification of our need for something ‘to look good in’, something new. This need pops up on an awfully high frequency. Enough is never enough. More is always better. When you want to cure a drug addict, what is it you do? Take away all the drugs, all the bad influences. Let them go cold turkey and make sure that afterwards, the ex-addict is only surrounded by positive influences, or can resist the bad influences on his own, or at least I think so. Would that work in fashion as well? Who has the responsibility to cure us fashion-addicts? With us, society, or within the fashion industry?
The Fast Fashion Industry
The fashion industry, lead by corporations striving for continuous growth and rising profits, aims for producing new lines of clothing every 6 weeks. Because the consumers want it that way, is their reasoning. There is demand, so we have to arrange supply. Consumers have seen new trends, and want to wear those. But want to pay the smallest price possible. In order to ‘survive’, or better yet grow and make a big profit, traditional companies will do everything in their power to get that lowest price. Regardless its effects. Only big companies are able to pull this intense production off. The corporations own the industry, you might say.
As consumers, we are constantly seduced by adds, shop windows and our peers to buy into new trends. When money is tight, we go for a quick and cheap fix. With so many other things on our minds, it is just too hard to also care about where all the products we consume come from. One example of a field where this changed, is food. The slow food movement caught on pretty strong. The explanation for this? The argument that slow food directly benefits us and our surroundings. With clothing, this is less likely to happen in my opinion, since the harmful effects and the exploitation of workers and raw materials don’t happen around our corners (or at least, not in our sight). That is one of the reasons why the dirty part of the fashion industry is not our biggest concern, in general.
Recognize the value of your clothes
Do you value all the clothes in your wardrobe? Or do you have items there that you don’t even know about? Why did you buy those? More is not better. Why can’t we see that when it comes to fashion? The idea of a capsule wardrobe might help to reform our closets and make sure we don’t own, nor buy, too much. Read for example this Huffington Post article about capsule wardrobes and try to apply the concept in your day to day life. Sometimes, in old movies, you see people handing down their clothes to their children. Because the items are still so beautiful. Like couture jackets and wedding gowns for example. Did you get any clothes from your parents or grandparents? Are you able to hand over any of your wardrobe items later in life? I maybe have one or two, that can stand the test of time. The others? Nah, I hope they can survive one year. Or two. Max. Wouldn’t you like to be able to have a wardrobe full of high quality clothes that you can wear for years, and even hand over to your children? I know I would.
The feeling that my clothes are of high quality and should be treated with care, is one that I like very much. Though the problem is, that it is hard to know for sure that you are buying something high-quality. The prices don’t tell the truth. Sometimes you pay 200 euro’s for a shirt that is made in the way as your 5 euro H&M shirt. You only pay for a name tag. That’s what feds me up. I think that needs to change. Not only should we, as consumers, start recognizing the value of our clothes again. A big responsibility lies within the fashion industry, within the corporate world, as well. Prices should be honest prices.
How to cure this dirty fashion industry?
The above two points illustrate that the problem lies not only within consumer behavior, but clearly also within corporate behavior. And I might even add societal behavior. To turn this unhealthy and unfair consumption pattern around, I believe responsibility lies with the companies as much as it lies with the consumers, and society as a whole. Public awareness about our shared addiction brings us a long way. For example, the slow fashion movement that aims to help consumers change their consumption habits by educating them on the pleasures of buying less, but more quality items.
So much can be done by the different stakeholders to cure our fashion-addicted society. But again, this has to be an attitude adopted by both the fashion industry, consumers, and society as a whole, together. Consumers should be educated on where and how their clothes were made. They (actually, we…) should also keep themselves and their urges under control. Companies should start acting ethically and feel proud to do so. Society should actively promote and market slow and sustainable fashion. Fashion designers should be encouraged to develop sustainable, durable clothing, as described in this article on mic.com. It is important that all stakeholders share roughly the same values and believe in a future where a reformed fashion industry will demolish the old ‘dirty’ one. Because we cannot cure a fashion addicted society when one of these main stakeholders is not fully committed or does not feel any responsibility for the problems at hand. Just like you are not able to heal a drug addict when he doesn’t want to heal himself. Or when the environment keeps on supporting drug use. Or when just too many people don’t care.