Column: Curtailing Our Consumption Habits

September 25, 2022

[Column written by Bermuda Is Love]

How can we all curtail our consumption habits?

The problem of consumerism

Consumerism is the preoccupation of society with the acquisition of consumer goods; while a consumer is defined as an individual able to buy goods and services beyond the satisfaction of their basic needs. The problem of consumerism is that the consumer class has exponentially increased and will grow from 3.5 billion in 2017 to 5.6 billion by 2030.

Problematically, if everyone lived like a Western consumer we would need five planets to sustain us. The negative effects of such consumerism include the depletion and straining of natural resources and the pollution and destruction of the planet.

Moreover, our consumer society is run as a linear system where natural resources are used in order to make consumer goods. This process leads to the creation of unfathomable amounts of waste in the form of carbon pollution, trash pollution, litter, greenhouse gas emissions, single-use plastics, oil spills, etc., which causes climate change and biodiversity loss.

Such waste pollutes the world and has the potential to negatively affect our way of life. There is only so much nature for us to “use” as nature is a finite resource. Therefore, our consumption and growth cannot be infinite. Any such society that depends on infinite consumption is not only unsustainable but will inevitably lead to environmental and societal collapse.

Consumerism and fast fashion

Our hyper consumption of clothing in the form of fast fashion represents just one area of consumerism which has exploded in the last two decades. For context, the average fashion consumer now buys 60% more clothing than they did 15 years ago. More than two tons of clothing are bought each minute in the UK. And globally, around 56 million tonnes of clothing are bought each year. This is expected to rise to 93 million tons by 2030 and 160 million tonnes by 2050.

While most clothes will last many years if they are treated with care, changing fashion trends and styles will artificially shorten the lifespan of most clothing due to changing consumer tastes. Because of this most clothing will only have a lifespan of between two to ten years – with underwear and t-shirts lasting just one to two years, and suits and coats lasting for around four to six years.

Our addiction to buying lots of super cheap clothes is having a negative effect on our planet, our culture, and our general well-being. And it’s also having a negative impact on our wardrobe and what we wear. The problem of fast fashion for the consumer is that you often wind up with a closet full of cheap clothing rather than a closet full of clothing that you will actually wear.

Below are some helpful tips on how you can curtail your consumption habits and still build a wardrobe full of style and variety:

Learn to be a conscious/mindful consumer

The first thing anyone needs to do is the easiest: be strategic about your shopping; about where you shop and what you buy. A conscious consumer means a consumer that only buys what they need, only buys things that they love, and takes care of everything that they own. People are often very impulsive when they shop, insofar as they are usually not even planning on buying something when they do.

In this regard, to be a conscious consumer means taking a look at your yearly budget for clothing and strategically planning each purchase. A conscious consumer will recognize that while investing in clothing may appear more expensive, it will actually mean that they will only purchase clothing that they actually want to wear, and that will last.

Re-train yourself to spot value/know that you’re getting what you pay for

Change how you think about real value when it comes to clothing. “People are so trained to want quantity over quality, to prize having a lot of clothes [and get them for low prices]”. Clothes that are made in smaller numbers with good materials and where the labour is fairly paid is not going to be cheap, but it is going to be worth it.

Learn how to spot well-made garments by looking at vintage garments. Does $20 really seem like a fair price to pay for a dress? Most fast fashion retailers are able to drive down their prices because they produce cheaply in factories in China or Bangladesh – factories, where working conditions and salaries are not fair.

Retailers are also reducing prices by buying fabric, mostly synthetic, at that, in massive bulk, which can lead to unnecessary waste. The bottom line is that if a garment’s price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Someone is paying the price, whether it be the environment or the factory workers on the other side of the world.

Think of the future

Buying fast fashion offers instant gratification. But what about long-term? Garment workers in China are now themselves wearing cheaply made fast fashion finds. H&M and Zara are expanding to more and more countries, and what this means it that fast fashion is spreading this rabid consumerism world-wide. If things continue the way they’re going, we’re going to wind up with a planet full of waste and fewer natural resources to create our clothes.

Invest in a capsule wardrobe

A capsule wardrobe is a limited selection of interchangeable clothing pieces that complement each other. These are often classic pieces that do not go out of style and are primarily composed of neutral colours. A capsule wardrobe allows you to create a variety of different outfits with a small selection of clothes. A capsule wardrobe is a sustainable way to approach your closet.

You mostly own timeless pieces that you can wear for years, and which won’t go out of style. Since you don’t have many clothes, you can wear every single piece you own, so no clothing is going to waste. People who choose to have a capsule wardrobe also often invest in quality pieces that last long and avoid fast fashion.

This can also help you save a lot of money! When you have a capsule wardrobe, you do not have to go shopping often because your clothing pieces are interchangeable and versatile. This means you wear them multiple times, and you do not buy pieces that you will not end up wearing regularly.

Upcycle, learn to sew, or hire a tailor

In order to be able to make more clothing and to make the most of the clothing you already have, enrol in a sewing class. Learning to sew is relatively inexpensive and will allow you to tweak secondhand finds and reworks old clothes. Turning a pair of old jeans into a cool skirt only costs 50 cents for thread.

If you do not have the time or inclination to learn to sew you can look to tailors and seamstresses who can do it for you. By working with tailors and seamstresses to rein in consumption not only will you get the most out of your clothing, but you negate the need to buy something brand new, breaking the relentless cycle of fast fashion, and ultimately decreasing the amount of waste that’s produced.

Many of us have bought a new pair of pants because our old ones didn’t fit anymore. Or thrown out a pair of jeans because they had a hole. Next time take those items to the tailor or seamstress [or figure out how to patch them up yourself]. Most alterations will be less than the cost of a completely new garment.

Exchange/swap clothes

Exchange clothes between friends and family. Swap clothes: participants can bring clothes that are no longer wear and exchange them for clothes they will use. This is an economic and eco-friendly way to refill your wardrobe. You can also organize it among your friends.

Rent clothes

This is a great option, especially for clothes that you will not wear for a long time or often [baby or pregnancy clothes, party dresses]. Clothes rentals is also a growing industry. This is a great option, especially for clothes that you will not wear for a long time or often [baby or pregnancy clothes, party dresses] Some companies also offer a monthly fee, allowing customers to constantly renew their wardrobe.

Buy sustainably

There is no such thing as a 100% sustainable fabric, but some are much better than others.

A more sustainable alternative to conventional cotton is the organic version of the material. Organic cotton is grown without all the harmful pesticides and produced without the dangerous chemicals that normal cotton uses. The most sustainable way to wear cotton is in its recycled form. This fabric is made with post-industrial and post-consumer waste and uses far less water and energy to produce in comparison with conventional and organic cotton.

The best materials for recycling and materials that you should buy include recycled [organic] cotton, organic hemp, organic linen, Tencel, and recycled polyester.

The worst materials in clothing for recycling and materials that you must avoid are polyester [virgin], nylon, cotton [conventional], acrylic, and rayon [viscose].

Buy from independent designers

Supporting indie designers that are based in your community is a great solution to the problem of fast fashion. Not only does it support creativity and original ideas, but it’s also good for the planet: Independent designers usually don’t have the budget to buy in bulk, or waste materials and more often than not they produce out of their own city, fostering the local economy.

Buy from secondhand stores, thrift shops, or online resale platforms

Second-hand shop: It’s not a new concept! You can find second-hand shops everywhere in the world. Many websites and apps also offer all kinds of second-hand options ranging from the cheapest to brand-name clothes.


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Comments (1)

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  1. Unbelievable says:

    I guess I applaud this “opinion” article as I too find consumerism gross but that “definition” of what a consumer is is wrong. Right out the gate, you lost me.