The developed world has an insatiable obsession: fashion.
Due to the disparity between economies, consumers in wealthy societies from all walks of life have the capacity to buy new clothing throughout the year, discarding the old like an empty food packet.
This is a privilege previously reserved for the rich. But now people from medium income levels and above can comfortably buy clothes monthly, if not weekly. Some even indulge in this desire on a daily basis, making it some kind of a hobby.
The impacts of this rapid clothing production and consumption are well-known. Textile workers are worked liked slaves and paid a penance. Prices are kept low because of the demand for the cheapest labor. Rivers are poisoned with toxic dyes, landfills pile up with clothing that can’t find a body to cover.
So, what’s the way out of this senseless wastage?
Well, simply put, it is to buy less clothing. This sounds simple. But for those who are most addicted to buying clothing, this is not so easy. The reason is that clothing is wrapped up with our sense of self.
Fast fashion works off the common practice of showcasing our identity through what we wear. Clothing is not just material that covers our bodies—it is often an extension of our being.
But identities are not so individual—they are bound up in belonging to a group or a culture or a subculture. We don the garb of the people we feel affinity with. But there’s no harm in this. This in itself does not lead to fast fashion.
The problem with fast fashion is that it is fast. Whereas four times a year a new style would come out with the seasons, new styles are constantly being released. And who are the people who fall prey to this constant flux of fashion? Perhaps those who do not belong to a distinct subculture or have no unique identity of their own. Subcultures that are well-defined do not sway to every wind that blows from the fashion world. And individuals who have a style of their own are not only comfortable in their own skin, but also in the clothing items they’ve been wearing for months, years, or even decades.
So, here lies the answer: to slow the pace of the fashion frenzy, we need to discover who we are and create/find our own identity and the clothes that express it. When this happens, we won’t be constantly buying clothes to fill the chasm that arises out of the emptiness of not knowing who we are.
To do this, we have to be independent, not a follower. If we try to dress how other people dress, and especially like the coolest of the cool, we will constantly be buying and throwing out clothes just to keep up with this ever-changing status.
But finding our own style is no easy feat. Of course, we can never escape the influence of those around us. And we will always live within the bounds of convention or in the tension of trying to actively subvert those conventions. But in relation to those boundaries, there is a space in which we are free to find our own style.
Part of this is based on the color of clothing. Without realizing it, there are probably certain colors that we feel most at home in. In this regard, one can even learn about the chakra system, which uses color to depict certain energy centers which also correspond to particular personality types and the means to strengthening particular weaknesses. The color of clothing then becomes a way to both express who we are and also enhance ourselves. For instance, my favorite color is purple, but this actually isn’t good for me to wear because I need more grounding, which is why I like to wear more earthy tones.
Of course, we are not static beings; our likes, dislikes, and even personal identity do change throughout time, which means that what we want to wear will also change. But even if we change our wardrobe in pace with these inner tides, we will be slowing down the pace of clothing production and wastage.
There is another underlying reason why people can feel that they need to constantly buy new clothes: respectability. A big part of being respectable in the eyes of others is appearance. And a big part of appearing respectable is dressing in new and tidy clothes. If clothes are frayed and faded, we can appear to be lacking in personal integrity.
But is integrity really dependent on how new one’s clothes are? Isn’t that a bit superficial? Yes. And anyway, isn’t it possible to dress in a neat way in old clothes? Wearing old clothes doesn’t mean that we have to dress in torn rags, but it also doesn’t mean discarding a clothing item the moment the edges start to wither.
All this shows that one way out of the fast fashion crisis is through personal reflection and empowerment. To continue wearing our aged clothes that may be out of style necessitates a strong sense of self and confidence.
We can’t dress entirely according to other peoples’ standards—otherwise, we will be sucking the life out of Mother Earth just to clothe ourselves in the latest, hippest garb.