I was doing an interview today for a large media organisation and after chatting for 30 minutes, the journalist asked me her final question, "Why is it you love fashion and shopping so much?". Although a simple, yet very relevant question, it did throw me. For a second I wondered, is she being condescending? I'm sure she wasn't, but after our great discussion about some of my career highlights and up-and-coming charity work I'm doing, I felt embarrassed by the question. I simply didn't know how to answer it. And for me to not be able to answer is not normal! I literally can talk under water.
After she left, the question got me thinking. I could have answered in an honest, yet emotional way about the proud and buzzing feeling I get when I walk out of a store swinging the paper bag (with the delightful bow), internally smiling that I just secured the new Gucci loafers I had been lusting over, which had sold out globally. But for the first time, the subject of 'fashion and shopping' actually left me feeling guilty.
The reason why is...although it is my favourite past time, my business, my career and pretty much a significant part of what defines me, fashion and shopping, isn’t making me feel good like it used it. I feel bad about the consumerism. I have guilt about the impact on the planet my buying habits is having. When I take a mental note on "how much my outfit costs today", sometimes I feel physically ill about what the dollar figure is! And mainly, I struggle with what our fascination with shopping and consumption is doing to the mental health of people around us. Because we aren't comparing ourselves to our inner circle (friends, family, peers), we are now comparing ourselves to the entire planet. And yet, it continues, unfortunately, to a degree that few of us even realise.
Earlier this year, I set some goals to make a few, key, changes in my life. One of the reasons I started this website was to be able to share the knowledge I have gained over the past 20 years of working in the fashion industry in Australia. Although I am known to most as an "influencer", this job title was actually an accident. For most of my career I have worked behind the scenes (prior to social media) as a head of buying for a large retailer, dissecting global trends and creating brands and products in very large volumes. Only recently I co-founded a global retail business based on being a fashion influencer. So, lets just say I have vast knowledge of women’s consumer habits! Mix that in with my innate love of fashion, and my “fashion education” ensures my outlook on style and fashion is well researched and considered. As most brands, influencers, media, etc, are preaching (buy, buy, buy), I felt it was time to teach (define, how, why).
In the past, new trends, new designers, influencers, style icons, etc, would inspire my eyes, but lately they are glazing over. I find there is too much noise about all the things we should be buying to be "on trend", cool, hot, young, relevant, new, popular, famous, etc, etc. And rather than making me go on a shopping frenzy, it has actually forced me to go back to basics and define what makes me happy to my core. And I'm using all my knowledge, not only on my clients, you (thank you for reading), but on myself too. And it feels great. I'm not obsessed with owning the newest must own 'thing' anymore. I'm wearing the items I have collected over the years and I'm making considered purchases rather than emotional ones. When I want shopping and fashion to make me feel better (as lets face it, it does), I visit stores, try things on and leave (sorry to all the sales people that I'm annoying!!).
Do you feel the same or is it just me?
Based on a variety of studies, here are some staggering statistics I read recently found that starkly show what impact our passion and obsession for shopping can have:
1. The average woman makes 301 trips to the stores annually, spending close to 400 hours a year shopping. This amounts to 8.5 years spent shopping during a typical lifespan. (NY Daily News)
2. Compared to 16 years ago (2002), the average person buys 60% more clothing and keeps them for half as long. (soul-flower.com)
3. Clothes made from polyester can take up to 200 years to break down (ABC News)
4. 96% of adults and 95% of teens admit they participate in some form of fashion retail therapy each week. (Yahoo)
5. More than a third of adults and teens said shopping made them feel better than working out. (Yahoo)
6. The average American throws away 30 kg of clothing per year. (Huffington Post)
7. Shopping malls outnumber high schools in America. (Affluenza)
8. We are spending more on accessories and fashion items than on higher education. (Phycology Today)
9. 80 billion pieces of clothing are consumed globally every year. (1MillionWomen.com.au)
10. Only 10% of the clothes people donate to second hand stores or charities get sold, the rest goes to landfill. (1MillionWomen.com.au)
11. Australian’s are the world’s second largest consumers of fashion. On average, they consume 27kgs of new clothing and textiles every year. (ABC News)
12. On average, an American between the ages of 18 and 65 has $6,027 of credit card debt. (Time)
13. Farmers close to garment factories can predict the colour of a season by seeing the colour of the waterways and rivers nearby. (ABC News)
14. Women wear a garment, on average, 7 times before throwing it away. (ABC News)
15. It is estimated online shopping containers and packaging accounted for 30% of total solid waste generated in the US (Environmental Protection Agency)
16. Social media creates less moment-to-moment happiness and less life satisfaction, which is linked to greater feelings of social isolation. This is one of the worst things for us, mentally and physically. (Forbes)
These facts are very dreary and are only a small percentage of the big issues going on in our world. However, sometimes we just need a reminder to keep us in check.
Here's my 'truth'check list:
- I try to think about the environment in all things I do. The Earth is our home and we need to protect it.
- Buy smarter and buy less stuff. I always talk about investing in key pieces that become your core wardrobe. And saving up for clothes or accessories that are well made and less likely to go out of fashion which you can wear for years. We generate a lot of waste by buying clothes on a whim and throwing them out a few months later. Extending the wearable lifetime of a garment by just 9 months reduces carbon, waste, and water footprints by around 20-30% each.
- I consider 'trash of convenience'. Who hasn’t, at some point, been shocked by the awfully excessive amount of wrapping we’ve ended up with buying in store or when ordering online, a very small item? However studies have shown online shopping can actually be more environmentally friendly than traditional shopping but only if the entire process remains digital from start to finish. Buy well in advance, thereby avoiding same-day or next-day delivery. This gives transport companies the chance to consolidate the packages into fewer trips, increasing efficiency and reducing emissions.
- Are you one of those people that buy 3 sizes to try before you decide? Every avoided return is a contribution to the environment. Opt for eco-friendly packaging and reuse it. Keep in mind that, although delivery is important, there is an entire supply chain that comes before it.
- I am sensitive of how social media effects people in my life, especially my children. I do have concerns for what social media is doing to people behind closed doors. I don't think we really talk about the effects it has on us all and hope this dialogue can start in the near future. Personally, my social content is honest and my true voice. I am conscious not to over embellish or over share. Basically, it's a behind the scenes of me rather than an edited editorial.
- Don’t allow shopping define you. When my shopping gets out of control I ask myself. What part of shopping provides you with a reward? Being social because you shop with friends? Being around others, or having something to do? Or do you shop to avoid feeling something negative, such as anxiety loneliness or fear?It takes an open mind and guts to analyse yourself like this. But could help you financially down the track if you understand the driver.
- When in doubt – don’t walk in. Our environment plays a huge role – and when you go shopping out of boredom or something to do, remember - If you kept a bowl of lollies on your desk, you know you will snack on them all day.
So next time I get interviewed rather than being guilty of my love of the world of fashion I can confidently know I am being conscious, responsible and aware.
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