Your Shopping Habits Do Matter, I Promise.
Updated: Dec 21, 2020
Over quarantine and the Summer, I’ve been sitting at my desk doing research that has a lot to do with the relationship between consumerism and sustainability in Fashion. I’ve been talking to normal fashion consumers and trying to get an idea of how sustainability factors into their own lives and shopping habits.
Something that’s really caught my attention is the pure, unbridled disillusionment that people seem to have with their ability to foster and encourage change within highly polluting industries like fashion.
Basically, people feel like they can’t make a difference, no matter how they shop, so they may as well not bother trying.
While I do believe that the responsibility for lasting, significant change falls on the corporation and not on the individual consumer, in consumer industries (especially fashion), production is trend-based and does follow the lead of economic demand. Think about what we saw with plastic straws and how that spiraled into a very nearly global reconceptualization of single-use plastics.
While there certainly are single-use plastics that are more detrimental overall to our Earth’s ecology and oceans, communication between consumer communities has effectively erased the plastic straw from mainstream production.
Even my local fast-food joints, who I certainly don’t associate with sustainability, are serving drinks with paper straws. To say that industry doesn’t follow the lead of the individual would simply be incorrect.
In the age of information we cannot underestimate the strength that we have as consumers en masse to create and exact change from the firms that are responsible for the problematic behaviour that is damaging our world from an ecological, social, and cultural perspective.
This doesn’t just go for fashion. We have power to encourage a better world in all areas of consumerism until our societies are able to make the real structural and governmental changes needed to enforce better corporate behaviour.
Since we’re so close to a terrifyingly important US election, try to think of sustainable purchasing as similar to the voter turnout problem. You, an individual, might think that your vote doesn’t count or doesn’t make a difference. But if you zoom out and realize that in 2016, for example, more than 100 million eligible Americans did not vote in the presidential election, it becomes glaringly obvious how much of an impact could be made if everyone got on board and participated.
I’m drawing this parallel not just because it’s timely (Americans, please vote), but also because I think it’s time we started taking the concept of “voting with our dollar” more seriously. If everyone who cared about sustainability issues and ethical issues within fashion actually used their dollars to participate in the movement, I believe we would gain traction in meaningful ways very quickly.
If you have the privilege to be able to make responsible and ethical shopping decisions, you should be making them. Even when it isn’t easy.