Ethical Fashion And The Rise Of Consumer Culture


ROH7304.jpgClothes are one of the largest polluters in the world. There is so much we don’t see from the clothes we wear, from the source of the fabric, where the cotton was grown, how much water was used to bring the piece of clothing to life, what environment the worker who sewed the piece of clothing worked in, how much they are paid and many other aspects that are often clouded by heavy advertising that shows the clothing in an attractive manner to grasp our attention. We are all filled with stories, and everything we come across has a story to tell. The smallest pebble may have crossed an ocean, and yet it’s easy to see something and only see the surface of it.

I met a lovely person yesterday with such a passion for ethical fashion, it was truly inspiring and motivating. If you have Netflix then I highly recommend watching the documentaries: The True Cost and Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things. A consumer culture is an ideology that tells us that we should acquire more things in order to build a sense of satisfaction within our lives. It encourages spending culture, building a desire for a lifestyle and convinces you that it is a source of happiness. It is a fact that the experiences we have outweigh the materials we own, and that building memories and relationships are far more valuable and will give true happiness that can sustain a lifetime.

What we consume should also reflect the value of long lasting wear and use. The power of advertising and marketing, is that it convinces the consumer that purchasing a particular good will change your life in a certain way. They persuade you that certain products can give your life more meaning or interest. In this interesting conversation I recently had with the person, we talked about how in the documentary there is a scene where there are massive sales in an American store. There are hundreds of shoppers rushing and running around the store, grabbing as fast as they can and even some fighting and pulling for something they have seen first.

The problem with the fashion industry is that many large companies mindset is to earn a huge amount of profit. There are those who are passionate about design, sourcing eco-friendly fabric and will only allow their clothes to be made in a production and manufacturing company that pays its workers a living wage in a safe environment. However, the over saturation of the industry is filled with actions that are corrupted. In an article here, it says The tragically poor and exploited lives of Chinese chip makers and Indian and Bangladeshi seamstresses are gaining worldwide visibility. Recent news concerning the unsafe living and working conditions of great masses of people is likely merely the tip of the exploitation iceberg.

I watched a film last night called The Shape of Water, (spoilers ahead) which delved with an array of themes. The film features an ocean creature, who is viewed as a monster by some of the characters within the film. However, there is a character who really is the monster, who takes advantage of his power and creates fear. He is an example of a capitalist consumer, such as when he is in a Cadillac store, the car salesman tells him that the teal car is driven by 4/5 most successful men in America (or something a long those lines). In the next scene, we see him drive off in one. It’s a clear example of how there is a certain value placed around materials, and how it shows and communicates one’s status, lifestyle and position in society.

Fashion is often viewed as superficial, but we all need clothing to wear, and the reality is that it is a form of comfort and communication. I don’t think Fashion is superficial, but really only certain people who make it superficial. It is those who believe that materials can show that they are better than someone else, that is one of the worst yet most common aspects of consumption. The truly superficial are those who produce clothes without any care for those making it, or the environment. These people in power have a lot of power to make great change, yet many companies only care about earning money. They will create a beautiful image from the advertising of the goods, but behind the scenes may be a sad reality.

It’s important to remind oneself of what are the truly important things in your life. The relationships you have are ultimately the biggest, as well as striving to do our best for the Earth. The character shows that many of us have an inkling of what we should do, but may not do it. An example, is when other’s decide not to recycle, those who litter, don’t try to understand the system or don’t care about the environment. It takes time, but it’s a matter of educating, spreading the message and raising awareness. It’s also a matter of turning it into action in your own life, and making the decision to consume less and support brands that have good ethics, transparent production and honest values.

What are your thoughts on consumer culture? How do you think we can make improvements in the fashion industry?

Art by Monica Rohan

16 thoughts on “Ethical Fashion And The Rise Of Consumer Culture

  1. This is so important! I watched the True Cost and I stopped buying fast fashion clothes a little over a year ago. I see people around my school saying “oh i got it because it was cute and was soo cheap…” but how much were those children payed? closer to nothing.

    1. I’m so happy to hear you’ve stopped buying fast fashion. If I buy clothes now, most of the time I will buy second hand because I often feel unsure how they decide how much a piece of clothing is. In some stores it may be the same style, and same fabric, but the similar styled jacket could be $150 and the other could be $30 in another store.

  2. I agree that consumer culture is killing our planet and maybe to a certain extent our sense of self, it tells us that we are not good enough and that we have to acquire more. That being said I still like picking up the odd item at H&M, its such hypocrisy.

  3. Very true, we’re constantly fed visual and verbal messages that we’re not good enough, and that we need this and that to feel a sense of fulfillment in our lives. Ah, I know what you mean. I saw someone with these amazing pants a few days ago, and she’d said they are from H&M. I hope these larger companies will strive to keep on improving and become more and more transparent.

  4. I really enjoyed this post — I also just watched Shape of Water! I think you brought up an interesting dynamic about clothing and creativity vs superficiality. To me, clothing and makeup can be a form of self-expression–like art. But many people, sometimes myself included sometimes, can get caught up in using material things as a way to compete or measure yourself against others.

    I look forward to reading your other posts!

  5. Thank you so much. It’s a beautiful film, with so many deep meanings. I feel that too, I think clothing is a wonderful way of expressing oneself, but I also find we only need so much of it to cherish and re-wear.

  6. This is a topic I’ve written too. Consumers–especially in the USA–need to become more aware that their shopping habits can have negative effects on both our planet as well as the lives of others. By adding your voice, you’re educating readers to be more aware. Stop by my blog sometime. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Love love love this post! I watched both documentaries and was so empowered. I’ve always had these thoughts in my mind having studied and practised fashion design and technology for about 8 years, but this has really given me a great push in the right direction. Also I might mention you can get a great app called “Good On You” which tells you about fashion companies affects on the enviroment and labour. Hope this helps you some more :)

  8. thank you so much for your comment :) I’m so glad to hear that, I think becoming aware of where our clothes come from and supporting ethical and local brands or shopping second hand is a great step. thanks for sharing, I’ve heard of the app and it’s such a great way to know who to support.

  9. It kind of bugs me how some girls wear BARELY any clothing, like super short shorts and a super low cut top. I think that should be a fashion crime 😆 I think that could help a lil bit.

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