In lockdown, it can be tempting to think that now should be a time for intense productivity. For learning new skills, perfecting our sourdoughs or reorganising our entire home. However, I don’t think now is the time for that. Our brains are in survival mode, and managing to shower, eat and get by is more than enough for now.
One thing we could perhaps try and do, if we feel up to it, is to let something go instead.
When things are difficult, it is normal to turn to the things we use to cope. Some of these can be helpful, such as meditation, exercise (although not exercising is also totally ok right now) or therapy, but they can sometimes be unhelpful too. In times of stress or lack of control, we can turn to things like excessive shopping to try and bring us a sense of ease for a moment. For some this may be a compulsion that needs to be addressed by a GP (if you feel this is the case for you please seek proper medical guidance), for others it can simply be a habit we develop as a result of boredom or general anxiety.
What can be agreed upon in any circumstance, however, is that it doesn’t help and it won’t make us feel better.
In this time, as Fashion Revolution Week takes place online, perhaps we can take this as a moment to spur us on. Not to self-shame or feel guilt, but to try and give ourselves more grace, love and kindness by slowly but surely trying to find ways to care for ourselves more. And to ask: are our relationships with fast fashion really helping us do that?
The reason I’m writing this now is not because I think everyone being on lockdown is the perfect time for self-improvement or to become an idealistic perfect version of ourselves. That’s not possible. I do think, however, that if you’re someone who has the privilege and means to not shop fast fashion but struggles to give it up, then perhaps this can give you a little time and space to address that.
Staying away from fast fashion stores
The first piece of advice I usually give to people trying to giving up fast fashion is to not go into high street fast fashion shops. It takes time to unlearn habits, and I find that removing yourself from temptation and finding ways to redirect impulsive behaviour can help us build up mental resilience. Usually I’d say something like: if Saturday used to be a day for shopping, try intentionally planning different activities with other people instead. Go to a museum, gallery or the cinema, take a trip to the countryside, try enrolling in a creative class. Redirecting energy into making memories or finding ways to create joy that don’t involve purchasing material things can be a way to explore what fulfilment may look like in other contexts, plus doing it with others keeps you accountable to maintain your commitments.
This, of course, isn’t really a choice in the same way anymore. The fast fashion stores have had to close so we, at least physically, already have that option removed. And it made me wonder, perhaps this could be a good time to ween ourselves off them.
I know that is isn’t that simple, of course. The temptation now is going to be internet shopping. Having access to the world at your fingertips and being bored and stuck at home aren’t a great combination. If this is something you’re struggling with, you can use website blocking plugins or your computer settings to limit your access to those spaces. By making it a lot more effort to get there in the first place, you may find that boredom browsing becomes way too much faff to be worth it.
At the same time, unfollowing anyone online that may encourage fast fashion habits or make you feel like you need to consume is a good idea. This is another important way to remove temptation; replacing these accounts with positive influences that can educate you on slowing down and inspire you to create a more sustainable mindset can do a world of good.
Regardless of whether I’m buying secondhand or from a sustainable business, I try and ask myself why I’m considering the purchase. Is there a legitimate space in my wardrobe that this will fill, or is this replacing something that I really can’t wear anymore? Learning ourselves and our motivations may help us understand why we sometimes act impulsively, and if there’s actually something larger that we may need to address instead.
Sometimes we do just need something or want to occasionally treat ourselves, but if we’re making choices because of something like boredom, then redirecting that into something else could prove useful. For example, I’ve been taking free drawing classes online. I’m not that good, and I’m not planning on becoming amazing over this time, but it’s something fun and engaging to do which I need to give my full attention to. When you take your money out of impulsive fashion buys and spend more time considering where you’re putting your time and energy, you open up the opportunity to use money in more interesting and enriching ways instead, or to save it altogether.
At the same time, if I do see something sustainable online I tend to bookmark it and leave it for a while. If I still really feel like I would like it after a few weeks, then I will think about purchasing it. More often than not, however, I forget about it pretty quickly. I’ve learned that just because I like something in the moment, it doesn’t mean that I need to own it.
Learn more (for tackling wardrobe boredom):
Opting for secondhand
If you feel your mental and emotional relationship with shopping is ok, but you simply feel slightly lost on where to get items you may want or need right now, there are still secondhand options out there for you too. Apps like Depop are a treasure trove of secondhand items while Bunz helps you swap things in your community, some charity shops run eBay pages, and many vintage stores run online shops too.
Consuming Less, But Better Quality
While some people may opt to completely stop buying things for a while, perhaps you still want to get something new now and again. Quitting fast fashion isn’t necessarily about never consuming, but instead about finding healthy ways to engage with these ideas. After all, longevity and consistency come from developing behaviour patterns that feel manageable. If you restrict yourself to the point of resentment, it’s far easier to ‘fall off the wagon’ and splurge on fast fashion once more.
This could look like instead limiting how many fashion pieces you’ll buy in a certain time period, saving for one larger purchase to stop you impulse spending on small things, creating a capsule wardrobe, or setting a rule that you won’t buy anything if you can’t pair it with at least 5 things you already own. Creating manageable boundaries or changes to help shift your consumption habits can be helpful, especially if it helps you consume better in a manageable way.
In general, I believe in purchasing more mindfully through thinking about solid investment pieces that you are going to love forever. Seeking out durable items that are guaranteed to last a lifetime from sites like BuyMeOnce (which will save you money in the long run too) and curating a wardrobe of trend-less items that you will wear and adore for years to come.
Finding your fashion balance
Sometimes we can find ourselves overconsuming because we can’t quite figure out how to put our wardrobe together. We may buy something we like, then realise it doesn’t go with anything else we own, then buy more items to go with that one thing. This cycle can repeat over and over, consistently bringing increasing amounts of stuff into our homes and making dressing and shopping more stressful. You may have a closet full of colour and print, but feel you have nothing to wear because none of it really goes.
I’m not saying you should now throw everything out and start again. What you may need is to intentionally find some balance. A wardrobe needs to be able to work together, so having a proper mix of basics and fun items means you should be able to endlessly mix and match what you do own. Basics provide the building blocks: timeless, versatile items that you don’t need to think about too much, the experimental pieces get to join in the mix because they’ll always match the basics.
Creating a conscious checklist
Trying to shop more ethically and sustainably can be difficult because there are multiple factors to consider, and it can often look different depending on individual priorities. Instead of trying to figure out in the moment whether something is ethical, being prepared beforehand for things you care about and what you’re looking for may be helpful. For me this looks like asking:
- Who made it and where? What are factory conditions like? Are workers allowed to unionise? How much are they paid? Is the factory externally accredited?
- What is it made from? Is the material naturally derived? Is it organic or regenerative? Is it externally certified? Is it repurposed waste material?
- What dyes have been used? Has the brand used natural dyes, azo-free dyes, low-impact dyes, or new dyeing technologies that reduce pollution? Are they externally certified by someone such as such as Oeko-Tex, GOTS, or Bluesign?
- Can I match the item with my wardrobe?
- Is it timeless?
- Could I repair or upcycle it in future?
Does it align with your beliefs as an activist?
This section isn’t written to shame, but as a gentle reminder, as often people don’t realise these things are related.
We see this most commonly in the popularity of branded feminist clothing which is usually manufactured by a marginalised, predominantly female, workforce across the world. Exploitation, poor wages, and slavery are rife within fast fashion supply chains, Zara steals the work of female artists, incidences of cultural appropriation are an issue, and the CEO of Topshop and the chairman of the Arcadia group has been accused multiple times of sexual harassment and racial abuse of staff.
If you want to creatively express your activism, I think it’s important to walk the walk too. As well as making sure we actively show up to advocate for the beliefs we hold, there are ethical and sustainable brands out there that can meet your needs and also treat their workers well. Buying from small, sustainable, women-owned, BIPOC-owned and size-inclusive businesses is very different to buying a slogan tee from Topshop, for example.
At the same time, if you’re a person who wants to sell merchandise, you can ask these questions of your manufacturers:
– Where is the company based?
– Do they have any history with labour, environmental or human rights issues?
– Are they owned by a larger company?
– How are they approaching sustainability and does it fit with our cause?
Overall, this can be a lot to think about, and it’s important to acknowledge that leaving fast fashion behind is the beginning of a journey that can take some time. But, full honesty, I really don’t miss fast fashion at all. Once you break ties with it, it can be hard to remember why you ever engaged to begin with. I promise you’ll get to that place too.