Monday, June 19, 2017

The New Materialism: Where Shopping Meets Ethics

Being more materialist and less status conscious can add value to your wardrobe and slow fast fashion to a sustainable pace.


Last weekend I watched the documentary, "Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things" and felt-- largely-- uninspired. I thought there would be information about the techniques advertisers use to compel people to buy things and how to counter them, but this documentary isn't that practical. Its goal seemed to be to cover the big bullet points of a minimalist lifestyle.
  • Simplicity prevents you from being overwhelmed by stuff or the race to keep up with the Joneses.
  • Opting out of the race to keep up with the Joneses allows you to be your authentic self and live a more meaningful life.
  • Having less allows you to live in a more ethical manner.

Seeing as there is a 24 billion dollar storage industry, there are certainly millions of people who could be inspired to look into minimalism after having it painted for them in such broad strokes. But not me. Moreover, I was put off by the sterile apartments and houses sadly devoid of color or texture inhabited by the interviewees and central figures of the film. One of the interviewees had a look (it was all black, of course)everyone else just wore clothes. I was about to decide that this film and this concept had nothing for me until Professor Juliet Schor appeared. She had a unique insight about fashion. Fast fashion consumers aren't materialistic enough— the meaning here emphasizing the fabrication and composition of the goods. Consumers are more concerned about the trendiness of their clothing or the status they believe the brand confers upon them than what the clothes are made of and the value of those materials and labor.

Commuting by bike made me think a great deal about what my clothes were made of. As a southerner, cotton and linen are precious to me most of the year. I've searched Wikipedia for the definitions of acrylic and polyester, but I'm still not completely sure that I understand what they are. I do, however, understand the description from this deep dive into fast fashion characterizing them as "essentially a type of plastic, [that] will take hundreds, if not thousands of years, to biodegrade." Moreover, Americans are discarding so much cheap clothing that even charities are overwhelmed and recipients in third world countries are increasingly likely to choose new, inexpensive, low-quality clothing over used, cheap clothing.

What is a style maven who loves the planet to do? We could trade our money for durable clothes that we love made of natural fabrics that we can pronounce and launder them with soap and water avoiding the tetrachlorethylene used widely by dry cleaners. That sounds like a good place to start even if funds limit you to mass retailers. Shopping vintage or thrifting is an option that doesn't strain the pockets. And last, but not least, you could save up your coins to buy from ethical brands.

Buying less or paying more to get less may seem antithetical to being fashionable, but it's completely aligned with being stylish and living graciously. Filling your closet with cheap, trendy clothes is just filling your closet with clothes, not outfits, not lewks. I really only attend to trends that make something I like widely available. I have loved plaid since the day I attained human consciousness so, when it becomes trendy, I buy things in plaid that I don't already own. If you don't like plaid, you will probably not love the way you look in plaid so don't stock up on it. Leave it for me.

Shopping for value and not volume will help you build the wardrobe that expresses your personality. Sturdy construction will allow you more use from cherished pieces. Clothing produced with low-impact dyes and processes by a labor force that is working in the proper conditions for fair compensation has added value.

Keeping these standards in mind while you shop will likely have you leaving your credit card holstered more often. However, these are the times that try shoppers' souls. So many brands are shuttering brick and mortar stores or going out of business altogether that "deals" abound. I must confess that at markdowns of 50% or more, my standards usually disappear, but I'm committed to doing better. Luckily, we don't have to be perfect to do right. Introducing temperance to our shopping may be the vital measure needed to slow down fashion.

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Maira Gall