The first thing that comes to my mind when it comes to consumerism is fast fashion. What is fast fashion? Fast fashion is a relatively modern phenomena that occurs within several high street retailers. Think Zara, H&M, Forever21, Uniqlo and everything you might find at your local Westfield. It describes the trend towards segmenting supply chains and increasing production of high fashion items, resulting in lower costs and higher profit. Fast fashion is essentially what allows you to get a knock off of designer goods for a cheap, cheap price.
Economically there are huge benefits from fast fashion. Goods are produced at cheaper costs than ever before. But these have costs and consequences that may not necessarily be present in the first world, but have had large impacts in developing nations. Many clothing retailers manufacture their products in developing nations such as Sri Lanka, China, India and Pakistan.
Fast fashion and ethical consumption has been a topic of discussion for many years, recently refuelled by the collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013. With more than 1,100 people killed, the event brought to light the horrific working conditions of factory workers, mass exploitation and disregard for safety measures as a cost-effective solution. This has just been one event in a chain of factory collapses, sparking conversations in our society about the ethics of our own consumption.
It might be easy to think there is not much we can do as individuals. But the conversation and ongoing discussion on consumerism will only increase. Ethical consumption is not sustainable in the long term, it does not improve living conditions and human rights in the countries where the factories are located. Consumerism, Zara hauls, ‘treat yourself’ shopping sprees are only temporary stress reliefs.
Next time you head to a shopping mall, evaluate the reasons for purchasing – do you need these clothes? Are you looking for an escape? The thrill of spending money? These things are all motivators for consumerism but when does it end? I think the first step to the consumer more ethically, purchasing locally made goods or goods that are ethically approved. If these goods are too expensive for your budget, try thrifting!
The answer is not to immediately cut anything out of your life, but to educate yourself on the options you have for ethical consumption out there. You might think it is easier to cut out fast fashion than you think. Evaluate the transparency of the company you are giving your money to. Look at their environmental sustainability reports, their supply chain management. Are they companies you would trust? The first step always begins with education.