Consumerism, especially in terms of fashion has been a conflicting topic on my mind for a long time. As a retailer how do I increase sales but not promote consumerism at the same time. The more I sell the more the artisans benefit and a higher chance for my business to thrive. So what do I do?
We currently spend 400% more on clothing than we did in the 80's. That was the time when Fast Fashion was taking over the fashion industry. The average women owns 30 outfits while in the 30's it was only 9. We apparently spend more on shoes, jewellery and watches than on higher education.
So what happens when we consume more than necessary?
We fall into debt. The average American household has more than $7,500 in consumer debt, while the medium annual household income for the global population is just $9,700. Not only do we spend outside our means, but very few people in this world can actually afford the lifestyle we all wish to have.
We create waste. The average North American throws away 65 pounds of clothing a year. Since our clothing is made up of many synthetic materials they will never biodegrade and because most are blended materials, clothing can not be recycled into new clothing, the technology does not exist. Only about 1% gets recycled in the truest of sense. Some do get shredded for commercial stuffing and insulation but 90% ends up in the landfill here or shipped off to developing countries. Don't be fooled when you donate clothing, mostly likely it ends up being sold to developing countries where a lot of it ends up in their landfills and destroys their local textile economy. Some countries in East Africa have been fighting back because they don't want our left overs.
We sacrifice our own humanity. Are we happier with more stuff? We hear it all the time, money and possessions can't give you joy and happiness but we still just consume and consume over and over again. 93% of teenage girls say shopping is their favourite activity and women spend eight years of their lives shopping. There has long been an observed connection between materialism, a lack of empathy and engagement with others and unhappiness. But research conducted over the past few years seems to show causation. There was a series of studies done that showed that as people become more materialistic, their well-being (good relationships, autonomy and sense of purpose) diminishes. As they become less materialistic, it rises. So why do we put ourselves through this? Yes, we are human. We come with envy and greed and a lot of unhappiness to begin with. But it doesn't have to be that way, we have a choice. Maybe we should try buying less??? Try to focus on more important areas or our lives, friends, family? Try to find that meaning and purpose so many of us seek?
As for me and my business, I don't know what the solution is to this ethical dilemma. Perhaps I'm just being too hard on myself, but as the saying goes... even too much of a good thing is a bad thing.
P.S. If you do donate, please donate to a reputable organization. Locally I suggest Mennonite Central Committee Thrift stores (Thrift on Kent, New Hamburg), Bibles for Missions, Worth a Second Look or Green Door.