— The problem lies within us.
We are all consumers. We are constantly consuming. With the rapid spike in digitisation and high smartphone penetration levels across countries around the world, we consume exponential amounts of information on a daily basis. With globalisation at its peak and vast product offerings, we’re faced with the dilemma of choice. We have too many choices and hence consume too much of everything, whether it’s food, fashion or social media. I’m not saying that consumerism is bad, because we have to consume (basic commodities) in order to survive, but what i’m talking about is compulsive-consumption – purchasing things in order to satisfy our short-term desires.
Compulsive shoppers buy more, even though they already have a sufficient amount. If we look specifically into fashion, fast-fashion companies such as H&M and Zara play a significant role in this problem. Fashion cycles are moving faster than ever, as these brands offer a range of new styles more frequently, giving avid trend-conscious consumers a multitude of off-the-runway looks and styles at extremely low prices. These low prices come from their compromise on quality and basic ethics, hence being able to keep production costs relatively low and encouraging people to buy large quantities of cheap and unsustainable clothing. So you’re probably thinking, what’s so bad about buying clothes that make me look good while being so affordable? The problem is that we hardly wear these items, or if we do, we only wear them about three times before we want to discard them. A survey by Weight Watchers indicates that shoppers in the UK own 10 billion euros worth of unworn clothing (Guardian, 2018). Additional research shows that an estimated 140 million euros of used clothing goes to landfills every year in the UK alone – that’s around 350,000 tonnes (Wrap, 2017). This clothing is made of synthetic materials that contain harmful chemicals and do not disintegrate, resulting in land pollution.
But perhaps businesses are to blame at a greater extent, because of their unsustainable business models that revolve around mass-production. Consumers only consume the amount they do because it is available and accessible to them. With most companies continuing to utilise a traditional supply chain model that aims to maximise efficiency and cut costs, the most crucial problems that arise are over-production, excess inventories and markdowns. Generally, the cause of these problems is an imbalance between demand and supply. Companies are producing more than what is required, so they are forced to get rid of this extra stock through rough markdowns at ridiculously low prices, further pushing their customers to purchase.
So what should we do? We really need to re-evaluate our purchasing decisions and ask ourselves if we really need another pair of jeans or a shirt that’ll easily wear out in a couple months. We need to buy less of low-quality, cheap clothing, and buy more of sustainable clothing that doesn’t carry a detrimental impact on our environment, even if that means we have to pay a higher price, because we’re more likely to keep those items for longer.
Quality over quantity, and less is more. Let’s all be a little more mindful and shop responsibly.