By Anastasia Ivleva
Founder and owner of Inditex, Amancio Ortega, whose brand pool includes Zara, Massimo Dutti and Oysho, was named the richest man in Europe in 2016 and his company, the wealthiest retailer on the planet, amassed a fortune of $79.7 billion. Quite a fitting way to begin an article on excessive consumption and impulsive shopping right?
Ortega’s fortune was built on a straightforward scheme: to sell inexpensive clothes, the design of which imitates catwalk trends and delivering new collections approximately every two weeks (in fact, Zara adds new styles every week). Multiply this business model by the number of fashion retailers across the globe and you’re left with a disappointing verdict – the garments produced each year is growing.
Nowadays consumer choices are almost endless – people can choose whatever style, size or model they like. Faced with too many options, though, and there can also be a sense of confusion between what is innately desired and actually needed and what is being externally imposed by clever marketers and paid influencers, leading to frustration and worrying about whether the right choice was made.
Twenty-something year-olds are generally the target of modern corporations and advertisers; to capture their loyalty at this point in their lifecycle almost guarantees a lifetime of custom, particularly as their incomes are expected to increase over the span of their careers. In the era of overflowing choices, easy finance, FOMO and instant gratification, this is also the generation that does not know the concept of ‘enough’; what it means to have just a couple of pairs of shoes and truly live with material scarcity.
This is the age of material abundance. Where the appearance of cheaper, imitation lines of expensive designer brands, the superfast production cycle and logomania has led to a consumption model that threatens to throw the planet off of its axis. People buy more, brands sensing increased profits respond by increasing and accelerating production and in return, people are given more products to buy. It’s a vicious cycle.
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The disposable mindset nurtured by fashion capitalism has led to increased textile waste, with cheap garments piling up in landfills worldwide and charities having to deal with excess donations –some of which are unsellable.
“It’s not a secret that charities are getting inundated with more donations than they can handle,” says Ana Fernanda Covarrubias, an Australia-based Mexican fashion designer and founder of sustainable style blog Second Runway who has spent time volunteering at charity shops in Australia.
“A large portion of these garments are rubbish and it’s costing these organisations a lot of money to deal with these items; profits that should be going to support people in need is instead being used to dispose of these donations.”
The environmental and social problems associated with the abundance of things is such a monster for the fashion industry, it is now trying to figure out how to kill it (or, at least, pretends to) by becoming ‘sustainable’. This also comes at a time when reports show that people are getting tired of their things; being trapped and feeling suffocated by the excess, they want to streamline, simplify, minimal-ize.
Cue, Normcore, an anti-fashion, anti-trend response to fashion’s excesses. According to Vogue, “Normcore is a collective, neutral blandness – eschewing obvious markers of luxury, fashion and distinctive style and instead opting for a more low key, cool look with a dash of athleticism.”
The industry, however, will exploit any trend for profit, whether it be sustainability, or in this case, Normcore. People liked the idea of making their wardrobe as unified as possible, so much so that a couple of months later, the very essence of normcore culture was perverted and the industry began calling it the main trend of the year, with some fashion brands producing “ordinary blank T-shirts” at a price of US$300. This subsequently led to another idea being formulated: you can wear the latest mastheads and look relatively fashionable, or you can dress in cheap garments from [insert fast fashion retailer here] and still be fashionable and on trend.
Thus, the consumption model of a progressive society should follow a simple concept: buy less and choose carefully. Uncontrolled dumping of goods into the basket and painful disposal of unnecessary or quickly worn out things a couple of months later, is an alarming symptom of a broken system.
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And let’s get real, impulsive shopping only really brings short-term satisfaction, as short as a few minutes after taking the item home (or in times of pandemic, when you’ve opened the package that has just been delivered).
Ryan Howell, a psychology professor at the University of California in San Francisco, insists that rash shopping is partly in our genetic memory: during hunting and gathering, when individuals saw something they wanted, they took it, even if there was no particular need, simply because the opportunity to find it on his or her way again may not turn up.
This may explain why when we stumble across something that seems like a bargain, our instincts prompt us to make a purchase. Marketing gimmicks and our subcortex are steadily adding fuel to the fire. To ignore advertising and external factors does not always mean to take control of the situation and you should develop your own strategy to resist impulse buying.
One way is to commit to fashion challenges. The 10×10 capsule wardrobe challenge encourages people to be more creative with the garments already in their closets. There is also the Buy Nothing New month which challenges people to forgo the purchase of anything new for 30 days. There’s also Project 333™ created by minimalism advocate Courtney Carver that invites people to dress with 33 items or less for three months, hence Project 333.
Another way is to educate yourself on the environmental and social impacts of fashion by reading articles that deep-dive into the impacts of the rag trade on sites (such as this one), watching fast fashion documentaries, reading books about the fashion industry and tuning into conscious fashion podcasts.
You can also wean off buying new and opt only to purchase second-hand from thrift stores, charity shops and on reseller platforms like thredUp, Tradesy or Click On Trend where the act of shopping is made less impulsive simply because there is no uniformity in sizes, styles or brands and the mere discovery of a garment you’ll love is akin to finding treasure. Customers are required to do some ‘work’ for their purchase.
The moral of the story? Think before you buy and do not rush, especially in the performance of the mass market.
Anastasia Ivleva is a Los Angeles-based marketing specialist and a sustainable business owner who puts into practice the potent mixture of creativity, technical skills, and data analysis.
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- 69 Facts and Statistics About Fast Fashion That Will Inspire You To Become An Ethical Fashion Advocate
- The Sustainable Fashion Blueprint Report 2018: Industry Overview and Business Opportunities
Cover image by Sundry Photography.