Shopping, Fashion, Beauty, Lookbook

It’s time we start rethinking the way we shop in a world that values consumerism

Half of the clothing we buy is thrown away in less than a year.

I am a product of capitalism.

As a teenager, I spent hours browsing through fashion magazines and planning my allowance out on what clothes I would buy. On weekends, my friends and I would spend our time in shopping malls feeding our consumerist habits.

I wish I could say my spending habits have changed. But they haven’t and while my idea of fun isn’t hanging out in shopping malls anymore, I still buy way more clothing than I need. In 21 years, I have probably bought enough clothes to last four lifetimes and at least once a year I give away a big bag of clothes.

I have become increasingly aware of the ethical impact fast fashion has on both people and the planet. This is changing my approach to clothes shopping.

The fashion industry is responsible for contributing more to climate change than the aeronautical and shipping industries combined. In the past 15 years, global clothing production has doubled and more than half of these clothing items are thrown away in less than a year.

On top of this, most of the people working in the fashion industry work under exploitative conditions and do not earn a livable wage. This is due to the fact that more than half of the world’s manufactured imports are intermediate goods forming part of a complex global supply chain. Global supply chains and the push for cheaper goods results in labor not being overseen. Often, this means greater worker exploitation and the use of child labor.

While changing the nature of import supply chains is not easy, what we can do is change the way we shop. Realizing the role I am playing in supporting the exploitative model has made me rethink shopping.  Here are four ways I hope to change my shopping habits.

1. Supporting local

Outside view of three small shops from the street. Shops are painted brightly and passers-by walk past.
[Image description: outside view of three small shops from the street. Shops are painted brightly and passers-by walk past]. Via Scott Webb on Unsplash.
Supporting local businesses that source labor and make products locally are more likely not to take part in the global supply chain. For this reason, most local businesses are more transparent in their business models. Supporting local fashion stores most of the time means supporting a more ethical approach to sourcing labor. On top of this, local products are better for the planet considering that little to no exporting and importing occurs. Local businesses also struggle to compete against big corporate businesses that sell clothes at competitive prices. This is another reason why we should do our best to support local businesses and our local economy.

2. Shopping at second-hand and thrift stores

Interior of a room with an array of accessories including hats, scarves, and handbags.
[Image description: interior of a room with an array of accessories including hats, scarves, and handbags]. Via Onur Bahcivancilar on Unsplash.
The clothing that is chucked out thanks to the fast fashion industry often ends up in second-hand stores. Supporting second-hand shops is important because it takes our consumer power away from the exploitative fast fashion shops. Yet, shopping from second-hand shops can require more patience than shopping from big retailers. It can also be super fun. A lot of my favorite items of clothing are second-hand. I enjoy the hunt. Browsing through many items to find the one perfect jacket or super comfy jersey is so much more rewarding than buying from a regular retailer. Second-hand items are also way more affordable which is always an all-around bonus.

3. Doing research

A sparse clothing store with white finishes and a customer wearing a black outfit.
[Image description: a sparse clothing store with white finishes and a customer wearing a black outfit]. Via Cull Nguyen on Unsplash.
I know that feeling of just wanting to buy something new. Capitalism has got the best of us. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still do our best to buy new clothing ethically. Some clothing brands say that they are made ethically on the labels. A lot of the time it’s up to us to do the research. The Good Trade is a good resource for finding ethical product brands. Otherwise, googling your favorite clothing brands’ ethical policies can be insightful.

4. Buying less

A sparse wardrobe with a few clothing items and accessories inside.
[Image description: a sparse wardrobe with a few clothing items and accessories inside]. Via Chuttersnap on Unsplash.]
This is the hardest part of shopping ethically (for me) but so important. Filling up black garbage bags with clothing year after year to give away is indicative of a much bigger problem. In order to effectively reduce the impact our consumption has on the planet it is important that we buy less produce.  Something that has helped me curb my shopping habits is using my doubt as a deterrent. Basically, if I am ever remotely undecided on a clothing item, I firmly tell myself it’s not worth buying. This means that I end up only buying clothing I am 100% sure I want to have.

Now, let’s go challenge the fast fashion industry.

  • Alice Draper

    Alice Draper is a freelance writer based in South Africa. When Alice isn't behind her laptop or book you may find her experimenting in the kitchen, trying (often in vain) to keep her garden alive or drinking wine with a friend.