A guide to conscious consumption: Part one
The opening entry in a short series for the Journal looking into the idea of conscious consumption. Consumption is a huge topic to cover, through this series I will dip my toe into the conversation around fashion consumption for us the consumers; thinking about what it actually means, the small steps we can take to consume in a more considered way, and the journeys myself and others are personally taking.
Right now we're collectively living through a difficult time. We're being forced to think differently about how we live on a day-to-day basis, what we hold dear, and how we're impacting the environment. With many of us having additional time on our hands, it could be the perfect time to engage ourselves in more considerate behaviours.
So for whatever stage of the journey you're at, today I will cover some very basic, initial questions from my viewpoint - the what, why and how of conscious consumption.
What is conscious consumption
I believe conscious consumption refers to a more thoughtful, deliberate approach to consuming; steering away from unnecessary purchases, impulse buying and throw-away mentality which can negatively impact both people and planet. It requires genuine consideration throughout the purchasing, usage and disposal of thereafter, to ensure the utmost respect for ourselves, others and the environment.
It is total awareness, a way to hold yourself (the consumer) accountable for your choices and actions against your personal values, in order to aim for the best option available to you at the given time.
Why do we need to consume consciously
'If you want to change the government, you have to aim at changing corporations, and if you want to change corporations, you first have to change the consumers.' Yvon Chouinard (Founder of Patagonia)
I don't believe its a secret anymore that our consumer culture is excessive. It can negatively impact our mental health, the lives of others and the environment. We simply do not have the resources to continue the upwards trajectory of virgin product, and we definitely do not have the space to cope with the amount of waste created as a result of our carelessness.
Within the fashion industry issues are broad, they cover unfair wages, child slavery, abuse, hazardous conditions and environmental damage to name a few. Here in the UK the government does not yet hold businesses fully accountable (the same in many countries globally), so if they choose to do so they can ignore their responsibilities and cause harm across the world. This is not our fault, but it is our collective problem, and therefore our responsibility as consumers to help remedy it.
Let's collectively open our eyes
I have not always been a conscious consumer, a potential reason for why I feel so strongly about it now. Whilst at university my eyes were opened to the negative impact of the industry, but also to the negative impact I was creating as a consumer. The process of unpacking my issues around consumption and sitting with the uncomfortable truth was difficult, but this move into mindfulness has improved my mental wellbeing and life in general making the process totally worth it.
Our consumer culture has been nurtured by people, and companies who's aim it is to continue growing by promoting 'wasteful and broken narratives of micro trends and consumerism'* as a form of life fulfillment for the consumer. This level of growth is unsustainable, unnecessary and fuelled by greed.
We as consumers are targeted through marketing tactics that trigger our need to consume at an unnecessary level which, like mine did, stem from our negative emotions. Research commissioned by Greenpeace found consumer motivation to shop comes more from the 'longing for excitement, satisfaction and confidence in front of others', than the actual need of something new - other reasons also included stress release, killing time and relieving boredom. The research goes on to explain how the buzz we experience when purchasing leads to a 'hangover', which comes on quicker the more we purchase, this can lead to the increase of purchases in order to maintain the buzz - it is in other words an addiction.
Our consumption habits can highlight for us underlying problems within our lives, our mental health and our wider culture. As I have done myself, I feel it's important to take a step back and look at how and why we're consuming, the impact it has, and how that makes us feel in order to take the steps to positive change. Because consumer demand does account for something; if we seek knowledge, challenge the broken narratives, vote with our loyalty, we can hope to see positive changes rise up through the system.
How can we consume consciously
I'm aware of how easy it is to over consume, and I think awareness of this is the first step. Over the last few years I've been actively working to improve my habits and alter how I view consumption and its place in my life, I will share with you a few of my tips and thoughts that have helped me in this process.
Evaluating why we choose to shop is the first step to understanding our consumption habits. My negative emotional triggers are stress, and a lack of confidence in myself - I used to believe that purchasing new clothes would improve my life and how I feel about myself. This is obviously not the case, thought it feels very true at the time, so catching these thoughts and working on them away from consumption is the first very important step.
Conscious consumption implies the deliberate act of consumption; you are aware of what and why you are choosing to shop, therefore you can set your intention and consider ways to respectfully work towards it. Researching is a tool to help you make conscious choices, every transaction is technically a contract so being informed about the product, company and terms is powerful.
What would it be like if even the most mundane items you use on a daily basis, sparked joy within you? Choosing a quality product, finding a second hand gem, purchasing from a small responsible business are a few ways, but even the full act of considered consuming can spark joy for good reasons. When you're spending your hard earned money, you want the journey and destination to spark joy within you - in the moment, and everyday afterwards.
Pause and consider
I try not to shop on impulse, after researching a product I like to sit with the idea of owning it. It's easy to become swept up in advertising and marketing of a product - the lifestyle it promotes. Taking the time to consider your purchase will help you avoid any wasteful choices. asking yourself a few questions can help navigate your intentions, and purchase in a more considered way. Feel free to add your own!
1. Why do I want to buy this?
2. Can I actually afford this?
3. Will I use this frequently?
4. Does this and the brand live up to my values?
5. Does this spark joy?
I hope you've enjoyed this introduction into this topic, it's an incredibly broad subject and I know I have only skimmed the surface. I'd love you to add your thoughts, experiences and tips for a being a more conscious consumer, so please do leave comments for myself and others to read. My next post will be looking into how I'm working in a considered way within the Under_Label, and my intentions for encouraging a kinder, more responsible way of consuming. xo