Hey there, welcome back! It’s been awhile since I’ve written something like this even though I have been posting more poems lately, but I’m back on it now and have a whole range of posts coming up on various topics of social awareness. For those who are used to my poetry posts, hope you might find something like this intriguing as well and we can continue to learn and share from each other. So, let’s get right into it.
As we’re well into the new year I have decided to change my lifestyle around a bit. One of my resolutions for 2016 is to commit to being a conscious consumer. Throughout my journey of undergrad as an Anthropology student, I was exposed to the facade of capitalism and the troublesome realities underlying mass production. It was at this time that I took interest in researching and being aware of certain brands and companies that do not support fair labour. Before that, I was not concerned at all by brand philosophy and was ignorantly submerged in the ideals and expectations of fast fashion (the name refers to the pace and style of the fast food industry – quick buys, trendy looks, and junk quality that does not last). When I began doing further research beyond the classroom, I was taken aback by three major things:
- the inhumane labour conditions of those working to produce clothes and other items from underdeveloped countries;
- position of the marketplace and the importance we bestow on it in our daily lives;
- the instability of such a system and the resulting effects of waste production.
Even though the birth of my initial steps took place during that time, I found it difficult to completely change my lifestyle and maintain it. I kept getting pulled back into the temptations of fast fashion and the desire to blend in with the crowd. However, after many years of struggling back and forth between these two choices, and growing as a person, I find the lifestyle unappealing and am willing to commit to being a conscious consumer now. For the past year or so I have substantially cut back on shopping (including window shopping) and started to switch to ethical, sustainable, and eco-friendly products. I quickly realized what was meant by the saying “less is more”; it’s quite liberating actually to own less, and in turn not be owned by what I have, but also own things of quality that have a longer-lasting value. I now aim to purchase only sustainable products that are either naturally made or locally produced, and are actually necessary for me – rather than going in with the mentality of trying to be “trendy” and buying things that are in fact not needed at all. It’s surprising by how little one actually needs to carry oneself efficiently and even leisurely – I learned this lesson on a trip to Europe in 2014 where the airline I was flying with misplaced my luggage and I was forced to live with the limited things I had in my carry-on for a couple weeks instead. It turned out to be the best lesson and trip I could ever experience.
It’s interesting to see how our lifestyle of consumerism even emerged and took the role it has today on “modernity”. Since the mid-twentieth century, specifically after WWII and getting well-established during the 1970s, North America has developed a consumer culture where production of materials has increased substantially and has been made available to the masses on a scale that was not imaginable before. In addition to the material value that products already had, they now also hold symbolical meaning to social and cultural values. We are currently living in an environment that evaluates individuals based on their material possessions and appearances. Of course, the degree to which we allow this culture to dictate our mentalities and character varies from person to person, but that still does not change the realities of the world we have created for ourselves. We are still consumers. As much as some people may want to reject this lifestyle, they cannot completely isolate themselves from it. Most people subconsciously identify themselves with their belongings and appearances. Consumerism is embedded in our society and practiced in practically every event and stage of life. We believe in the idea that the marketplace offers us opportunities to improve not just our lives, but ourselves, by gaining acceptance and recognition from those around us. Status and success are often shown off by the use of capital and ownership of high-end products. And those who are running after success are often persuaded to constantly purchase specific products/brands and styles to compete in the race. This is deeply integrated with the idea of “The American Dream”, which I discussed in detail in a previous blog (click here to read Breaking Down The American Dream). Psychology studies have also shown that shopping actually makes one happy in the literal sense. Even window shopping at the mall can lead individuals to experience a higher dopamine release, causing them to feel a temporary happiness. Knowing this reaction amongst the general public, marketers tend to take advantage of it by feeding us images of products and lifestyles that we can self-identify with.
Now you might be thinking, “So what? …What’s wrong with materialism? What’s so bad in having a marketplace and a culture of consumerism? There’s nothing demeaning in temporary happiness or excitement. Plus, this is how the world works anyways and it just is what it is…” And as I said, no one can truly run from this and reject it. However, it is important to be aware of what is being fed to us and what we are supporting; it’s important to examine what the effects are of us as a society in actively choosing to follow this lifestyle. Yes, this is the way the world works currently, however that’s because it has been created this way by us. We can choose to create different alternatives to the already existing system – we can create another world.
Most corporations, including fashion companies but not limited to, outsource their supply from underdeveloped countries in which workers are from a lower class. They are forced to work terribly long hours and are only paid $2-3 a day. Furthermore, many of these sweatshops practice child labour as well. Why does this not matter to us? Have we become so selfish as a society that we do not take into consideration where our belongings come from, who has made our clothes? The monetary exchange of purchasing products does not mean they became separate from their origins. Consumer culture, while helping shoppers to gain happiness (i.e. release of dopamine), completely divides the consumer from the producer and creates a false identity of ownership (shoutout to the Marxist and Durkheimian theorists out there!).
On top of these issues, fast fashion is leaving behind an even destructive mark on the environment. As the name suggests, fast fashion produces higher quantity of cheap merchandise that is meant to be replaced on a regular basis. The amount of clothes and accessories we throw in the trash annually in North America is remarkable! Take a look at the image below…
“75% of the consumers give decision to purchase a new product within 3 seconds. In order to cope with such speed, the system works with lightning speed.”
I encourage you to research your favourite go-to brands to find out where their supply comes from and what their philosophy is. You can click here to see participating companies that support ethical goods, put out by the Fair Labor Association. You can also start here by reading: 14 Athletic Wear Companies That Are Actually Good for the World.
If you want more information in general, I highly recommend checking out the documentary The True Cost directed by Andrew Morgan – can be found on YouTube and Netflix.
If you are even remotely interested in trying to make a change, which hopefully you are somewhat after reading this blog, then I propose a challenge for you:
For one month, commit yourself to being a conscious consumer. There is no real way of doing this but just develop your own guideline based on what your current lifestyle and choices are. See where the journey takes you for the month. Remember the idea of voting with your dollar and the impact your choices can have on the supply and demand cycle (click here to read more about this in relation to ethical eating). There’s nothing harmful in experimenting this for yourself. Don’t hesitate to share your experiences – we can always learn so much from each other…remember the Ubuntu philosophy!
Peace & Love ~