Some people see clothing as frivolous. Some people criticize buying as searching to fill some emotional void with another cheap outfit.
This industrialized era of the past two centuries has taught us to consume more. To buy because it’s cheap. We get excited by this idea.
‘Look how much more we can buy while paying as little as possible!’
Reality show celebrities, Instagram influencers and YouTube un-boxers only wear items for the photo or video op. Our closets overflow, our shoes pile up on the floor.
We buy more organizers and more efficient storage. We watch HGTV to learn to overcome or avoid hoarding. Supermarket checkout magazines tell us how to declutter. Marie Kondo encourages us to get rid of things that don’t spark joy.
Minimalists tell us that experiences matter more than things. We hear that things are superficial and don’t have any meaning.
As a society, we’ve gotten on this hamster wheel of buying and discarding.
This wheel is emotional.
We love the feeling of buying. Of getting something new. It feels fantastic. And there are so many nuances of this feeling. Maybe we are buying to compensate for other negative feelings. Maybe we are buying to receive accolades or respect from others. Maybe we’re buying to fit in. Maybe we’re buying because that item matches our view of who we want to be. Whatever the shade of emotion, we’re buying to somehow feel better, and often to feel better about ourselves. But it soon fades, and we need the next thing. The next emotional pick-me-up.
We’re emotionally worn out with the responsibility of what to do with all the things we’re tired of. It makes our houses feel heavy. Oppressive. We look for the easiest way to feel lighter. Freer. For most people, it means the clothes end up in the trash. Marginally better is to send them to a charity shop. But that just spreads the problem further, as we pass our cheap garments on to others. Others who are overwhelmed with the scale of these mountains of abandoned low-value merchandise.
We’re emotionally overwhelmed by the array of choices for new things to buy to get the next high. It’s easiest to buy the next cheap thing from Walmart, Fashionova or H&M. Because buying from them is safe. Easy. You’re not taking a fashion risk. You don’t have to make complicated decisions. And you’re sure that you’ll fit in with your friends.
What makes this choice even safer, is the low price you pay. If you don’t like it, no big deal. You didn’t pay much for it, so you can discard it.
I would argue that buying clothing is not frivolous. We’ve made it frivolous because we are not seeing and meeting the human needs in this cycle.
What we can see in this emotional hamster wheel are human values and needs tied up in this process.
What are we are seeking when we pursue this cycle of buying and discarding?
A desire for positive emotions:
– to feel good about ourselves
– a sense of safety
– ease, convenience
– desire to connect, fit-in, belong
A desire to get rid of negative emotions:
– feeling overwhelmed
– anxiety, stress, pressure
– a sense of not measuring up
We’re trying unsuccessfully to meet these desires with disposable products. With products that have sucked all the value out of the physical item. We can buy these things so cheaply because there is so little value in the goods.
We’re not buying goods that have and hold value. We’re not buying goods that we feel pleasure in having for a long time. We’re not buying goods that have inherently valuable materials. We’re not buying goods that value the labour that went into them.
These goods are produced to give all the value to the shareholder.
Not the maker. Not the user.
Now, I’m not suggesting we can meet all our emotional needs by spending money on clothes, or other things.
I do argue that what we wear, and what we have in our homes is intimately tied into our identity, our emotions and how we feel about ourselves. And we can’t avoid this.
What I suggest is that there are types of goods that give us lasting value and comfort in our lives. And other types of goods that are designed to have little to no value.
- What could we change in the fashion industry if we sought to meet people’s needs by offering apparel that is value-full instead of wasteful?
- What is the opportunity this pandemic crisis offers the fashion industry, as people turn to comfort and tradition and homey-ness? As people look for ways to connect with something more than themselves? As we see even the big-box and mega-retailers falter?
- This is a once in a lifetime, maybe once in a century, opportunity to make a change. We can seek to meet critical human needs and change behaviour. How do we do it?