The consumer culture has found its perfect match in the western world; our fast-fashion habits. Consumerism is becoming a form of entertainment. Clothes shopping used to be something people did when they simply needed new clothes. Nowadays, it has become a social activity, something people take pleasure from, treat as a hobby and often become addicted to.
By Kirsty Hunter
In just 15 years we have seen an extreme shift from most clothing shops doing four collections a year to doing 12-18 collections a year. Zara sees new clothes coming into its stores twice a week, and H&M every day. The availability of cheap clothes and the constant turn around of new lines makes it an easily accessible form of entertainment, one that sometimes doesn’t even rely on what you buy, but on the fact that it was a bargain. Fast fashion is feeding the habit of consumerism.
This dynamic has significant consequences. Our clothes go from the back of our wardrobes, to second hand shops that are receiving way more than they can manage, to landfills that are overflowing with textiles and fabrics that don’t break down easily. Consumers run the risk of ending up on hedonic treadmill in which the continuous pursuit of new things leaves them displeased and disappointed.
“It’s the whole consumer culture; that we need to consume in order to feel happy, to be able to show people that we are on top of things and have success, therefore we consume all the time” says Rasmus Nordqvist, member of the Danish Parliament and lecturer at the International Fashion School in Berlin, ESMOD. “The whole psychology behind it is this total constant need of renewing who we are, what we’re buying and what we are reflecting to other people in our image.”
Pleasure from purchasing
When we shop, our brains do a trade-off between the potential pleasure of acquisition and the pain of paying. Acquiring a brand new top would no doubt out weigh the pain of paying if it were only to cost £6.99. The environmental and social consequences of this purchase most likely don’t cross people’s minds during this process.
“The impact is extreme, even if its conscious collections or organic cotton or whatever, the problem is that we’re buying a t-shirt for what £6-7 and because it costs so little we see people who are not even washing their clothes, they buy something new. I saw once a paper describing that in the UK people are on average using an item of clothing six times from when they’re buying them to when they throw it out.” Said Nordqvist.
“The consumer needs to feel empowered, like they understand and know the clothing industry. It should be less about fashion and more about taking care of their clothes properly. Because fashion is really just a concept that was created to sell more clothes” said Tone Skårdal Tobiasson, responsible for Nordic Initiative, Clean and Ethical (NICE) Norway and editor for nicefashion.org website.
“People don’t like change anyway, if you find something you like, you keep coming back to that over and over again. Why do people wear jeans and t-shirts? It’s not to be fashionable, it’s because they’re comfortable. The customer needs to have the pride and the understanding that they know a lot more than they think they do. And they can help the consumer by building up that confidence.”
Scandinavia has long since been famous for its sustainability. Peter Dammand, Lecturer at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation claims Scandinavian consumers may not be contributing to fast fashion as much as they think. “A Danish university did some research where they actually went into people’s homes and looked in their cupboards or wardrobes and found that it’s actually a little bit different than what the industry says. We don’t consume as much as we think we do.
“Often when we actually look in people’s wardrobes there are a lot of items, which are actually quite old, they purchased them many years ago, and they still have them. And I think we can all connect to that because we all have those items that we are really fond of, that we attach to.”
Josefine Koch Jürgensen from Neutral, a Danish sustainable fashion brand tries to explain why Scandinavian countries are often shown in the limelight when it comes to sustainability. “Maybe sustainability has been a focal point in Scandinavia for a longer time and therefore is a better understood area among both brands and consumers” she said.
“But whether it results in different production methods or consumer habits is difficult to say. But one thing is certain; social responsible production is on Danish officials’ agenda, e.g. the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark.”
Perhaps this is the mind-set that other governments, businesses and consumers worldwide should be adapting to also, in order to stamp out consumerist behaviour.