It’s Black Friday, friends. The frenzied holiday retail season has officially exploded in our faces.
I wrote this post a few times, editing down a lot of the darker things I had originally written. Why? I’m an optimist. I just believe that things are going to be okay. That the human race—and all of its magical members—have undiscovered potential and capacity for greatness/kindness/brilliance that will fight evil by moonlight, win love by daylight, and see us through any crisis.
However, one cannot ignore how much darkness we’re facing in the world right now. After all, I’m an optimist—not an idiot.
This morning my inbox is an even mixture of branded marketing emails that attempt to sound detached while saying “please, please buy our leftover merchandise” and alarming environmental newsletters breaking our planet’s rampant pollution issues and harrowing climate crisis.
How can one make sense of this mix?
One is indicative of a robotic consumer culture that has us shackled at every extremity, funneling our money into quick fix purchases that we think will somehow improve our lives, make us more appealing, or simply brighten up our days.
(Hands up if you buy things to “brighten up your day”!)
The other is, well… indicative of a grim reality most of us would rather not think about while we prepare for a festive season ahead.
These “buy, buy, buy” promotions don’t feel fun and whimsical anymore. Instead, they echo that second half of the mixture. Our addiction to more, our insatiable starvation for novelty and newness (and our tendency to define ourselves by those purchasing moments even when we don’t give a crap about the item we’ve purchased weeks later), is killing the planet and the people who live here.
But, as I said… I’m an optimist.
I try to focus on a positive action that can be taken to counter the darkness. Like most people, I want to be proactive and helpful. I want to make a difference through my daily life and whatever grand efforts I can muster.
And like most people, I could be doing a lot more.
Because I’ve spent my entire life studying and working in art and fashion, these are the areas I feel I could be most helpful.
(By the way, I’ve touched on this in my post Why I’m Not Excited About Fashion Week Anymore, but today I am diving deeper.)
While I passionately adore the art of expressing oneself through personal style—and the uplifting, wildly therapeutic impact fashion can have on someone’s life—I’ve begun to seriously question my own role in the fashion industry.
After a decade of writing content and copy for brands big and small, I’ve realized that this industry has morphed into something completely different than what I thought I’d signed up for back when I was a starry-eyed 20-something covering Fashion Week and oogling clothes in boutique windows.
When I was studying Fashion Design at FIT from 2005-2009, I would literally dream of the designer clothes we used to see walk down the runway while volunteering at the tents. We’d go to designer flagship stores to study the construction of garments, sketch from archival fashion in the school’s adjacent museum. Knockoffs were scowled at. My peers were saving their retail and service industry income for months to buy a pair of designer shoes or a belt, just to be a part of it.
Below: My precious sample sale finds in 2009, totaling… $75, maybe? Including Milly, Free People, and other contemporary brands at the time. This was probably all I bought for 1-2 months.
As a broke college kid, I used to look at Japanese fashion magazines over and over until they fell apart to get my fashion fix instead of shopping.
Working in the sample closet at my internship was like a dream—especially because we could borrow dresses to wear to events.
Me in the middle, in a borrowed Milly dress that I was eventually gifted!
Now, I’m not glorifying an obsession with labels. But there’s something to be said for respecting the beauty of a hand-tailored designer jacket and having to save money to own beautiful, well-made things.
These days, you can buy knockoff designer everything at Fashion Nova and Zara. H&M has 52 freaking seasons per year. You can buy a cheap, crappy version of whatever Kim K wore for the first time just yesterday. You can buy a dress for $9 and never think twice about why it’s so cheap or where it came from.
We forget about the tragedies of those working in factories under horrific conditions between news stories about entire buildings catching fire or collapsing with workers inside, between photos of babies playing on the floor beneath industrial sewing machines, between clips of teenage girls being rounded up on open-air wagons and hauled off to work strenuous hours for next to no pay.
On top of this, brown paper labels that say “sustainable” are popping up to make us feel better about shelling out and bringing home piles of clothes when “sustainable” doesn’t even have a legal definition in the industry.
Here’s an alarming fact according to this report: The textile industry emits more greenhouse gas emissions than international shipping and aviation combined. Yikes.
And it’s not getting any better.
Here’s a quick rundown that’s also funny enough that you won’t immediately go into denial and close this browser tab (in case you have anxiety like I do and can’t always handle this stuff unless it comes with a punchline):
There are so many layers of alarming here!
The levels of waste, toxicity, and mindless consumerism at play in the fashion industry aren’t just upsetting. They’re also growing exponentially. But all hope is not lost, fashion-loving friends! We just need to take matters into our own hands.
This is one crisis that you and I can help solve with a 3-part commitment:
1. Shop less.
Obvious? Yes. But perhaps the most difficult habit to break if you’re addicted to that high of clicking “Complete Purchase” and getting packages in the mail or popping into stores “just to see what’s new”. I know I am!
We use shopping to console us, to celebrate and reward ourselves, and to ease the boredom of a weekend without plans. We shop for status, for fun, for confidence, and for holidays that are supposedly about celebrating family and togetherness.
In every commercially-fueled society on the planet, our environments are purposefully designed to increase our chances of shopping. You’ve probably heard the statistic that we see between 4k-10k ads per day, right? Well, that statistic is from 2015. Can you imagine how much that has increased, now that ads are woven into even the “casual” content we consume?
#Ad, #Ad, #Sponsored, #Ad, am I right? Even when it’s not an ad, content is designed around “look at my new X” or “brand X haul”. We are literally surrounded by triggers to consume, 24/7.
So, how can you encourage yourself to shop less? I think we all need a healthy mixture of harsh reality, trigger removal, and reassessment of our priorities.
An estimated 1.8 billion people worldwide purchase goods online this year. That’s 1.8 billion chances for us to make more responsible decisions.
Start by watching those difficult videos and reading those difficult articles that expose the truth behind fast fashion brands (start here after you watch the video above): how the clothes are made, who suffers so we can swap out cute dresses every few weeks, how much would-be drinking water is squandered during resource-leeching garment production processes.
When you see a tempting item in the store, remember how it got there. Remember that you’re voting with your dollars each time you choose convenience over humanity.
(And hey, before I get too preachy: I am literally saying this to myself as much as I am to you. I am a card-carrying H&M addict, and I sense the road to recovery is not going to be effortless.)
Next, try and remove some of the temptations from your life. Opt out. Unsubscribe from fast fashion newsletters that are known triggers for you.
Not ready to go cold turkey? Maybe you commit to remaining on one newsletter only, for a brand that you really love.
Install ad blockers on your browser. Edit your ad preferences on Facebook to remove things you find yourself clicking on mindlessly.
Also, open your closet and look inside. See that shirt hanging to the side, unloved, forgotten? Remember how you “had” to have it when it first appeared online or in the store? Why hasn’t it mysteriously made your life better, now that is it belongs to you? Why hasn’t it made you feel as happy and sexy and alive as the model looked wearing it?
Because clothes don’t do that! *face palm*
We must stop subscribing to this wild idea that products will magically transform our lives into something better.
As a fashion copywriter for over a decade, I know how marketing language is used to manipulate women into thinking something is going to upgrade their entire existence… when I know that true happiness and fulfillment come from a very different source.
It’s all a well-orchestrated, unending cycle of empty aspiration. Let’s just be real about that.
And finally, piggybacking off of that last point, reassess what actually matters to you in life.
If clothes aren’t making you happy… what does?
That thing is where more of your effort and time and love—and yes, money—should be going. If we don’t see this now and act on it, we are at risk of living very empty lives that merely drain our resources as the years go by (and our storage units fill).
Convenience and tempting price tags have the potential to completely clog up our lives and paralyze us, rendering us useless to our actual hopes, dreams, and aspirations.
What if you avoided buying a $15 dress five times and did something far more meaningful with that money? What far more crucial or heartfelt goal could you keep in mind when faced with the temptation to buy things you know you don’t need?
What if you had an “I didn’t shop!” jar (digital or physical) that you put money into each time you decided not to buy something? It would be fascinating to see how much money could accumulate there…
Though you could also look at your bank account last year for an idea of just how much you would have saved if you hadn’t stepped into H&M or Zara. *cringe*
2. When we do shop, be smart about it.
This point breaks down into two key categories: buying things you truly love (rather than things that happen to be on sale, for example) and shopping second-hand.
One of my clients is a contemporary price point jewelry company based in India. They make some gorgeous stuff, and it’s solid quality. I treated myself to a pair of their earrings for my birthday. They were around $120. They’re also pictured in the head of this blog post.
That same week, Forever31 (as I lovingly call it) had a jewelry sale. While I can’t really justify buying clothes there anymore (a blessing to be sure) All of their big bold gold-toned earrings, which were molded after authentic vintage silhouettes—and you can always source originals of on Etsy, by the way—were about $2 to $5 each.
….$2 to $5 each.
I didn’t think twice before grabbing my birthday card cash and adding a ton of those suckers to cart. I felt like I’d hit the jackpot. Statement earrings for days! Festive accents! Boujee European aesthetic for the price of a deli sandwich!
Both of those shopping experiences? Thrilling. But everything changed when the two separate packages arrived.
The earrings that arrived from India came wrapped in a beautiful protective box and velour bag. They were heavy, luxe, glistened when I held them up, their craftsmanship immediately evident. Because I write for the brand, I knew they were handmade with iridescent and rose-hued Swarovski crystals and the brand’s signature enamel/gleaming high shine finish. But I’d never held the product in my hands. I was enamored. I thought the price could easily have been higher. (This brand is Isharya, in case you’re curious.)
The F21 box arrived and I dumped it out on the carpet. The clanky tin sound of cheap jewelry wrapped in plastic filled the air. I combed through the pile, unwrapping and inspecting the earrings. They weighed nothing, felt like cheap garbage in my hands, and one of them literally fell apart as soon as I held it up. Ugh.
Out of the entire cheap-o haul I secured for myself, I have consistently worn two pairs—the two that I might have purchased alone if I’d spent some time thinking about what complements my existing wardrobe and what I actually wanted to wear instead of getting hyped over a sale.
The point is obvious here, but let me take it a step further:
The earrings I put at the top of this post weren’t photographed for this post. I just snapped that photo for fun because I felt like they are so stunning, I had to capture them in a festive, beautiful way.
I carefully laid them on a piece of sketchbook paper, added some glitter and bottle brush trees, and played with how they looked in the frame. You know, the same way some people do to their kids and pets.
Yes. I did a holiday portrait for a pair of earrings.
I might be an IG-addicted blogger type of gal who does this kind of thing with some regularity… but this particular photo is proof to me that certain things I own are precious. The cheap earrings I’ve never worn are proof that some things I own are truly superfluous and empty.
Another example? My first Lack Of Color hat was one of the most precious purchases I’ve made. I was in love. I wore the hell out of it. I still have it, even though I’ve worn it out, faded the color, and even stepped on it in the street to keep it from blowing under a car after it fell off my head on the way to a New Year’s Eve party. *gasp*
The next four or five hats? I didn’t get the same thrill. I was chasing a high, buying from a brand that makes wearing hats look ridiculously cool.
On the other hand, I shelled out for a one of a kind hand-woven Ethiopian storage basket from another client of mine. Because of its ethical artisanal production, it was really expensive. More than I had ever imagined I would spend on a basket. However, if I got rid of nearly everything else in my room, someone could walk in and say, “Wow. I love your space.” because of this basket. If I could only keep a few things to “define” my interior, this would be one of them.
If freaking love this basket.
You can see it in this photo and it’s by Bolé Road Textiles, by the way:
So the question I have for myself and for you is, what if we just stopped buying those impulse items for the sake of owning them? What if we stuck to the stuff that’s truly special?
The second part of this equation, as I mentioned, is shopping second-hand.
I’ve done posts before about why buying vintage is a good idea, but vintage is just one corner of the second-hand market.
Clothing is abandoned regularly because we buy way too much of it. Stores like Crossroads Trading Co and other non-vintage resale outlets are overflowing with merchandise as people blow through fast fashion and use up clothing like tissues.
The resale market is projected to reach $51 billion in sales in about five years because Millennials and Gen Z are cool with owning things that have been pre-loved. This is a good thing, but it’s also a double-edged sword.
Sites like Depop and eBay are overflowing with lots of clothing as people panic to make back the money they wasted on stuff they didn’t actually want (that includes our second-hand loving generations).
There’s simply too much clothing being purchased in the first place, justified perhaps by the fact that if we don’t like something, we can just sell it online.
(Selling on Depop is not without its challenges… Image via @Depopdrama)
This behavior is triggering brands to release even more, and now we’re all buried.
The key right now is to slow and/or stop buying new things and buy second-hand instead. Resist H&M’s “new collection” featuring the same silhouettes they’ve been selling for a decade in trendy new prints and fabrics.
Resist Zara’s shiny new tailored jackets that would be perfect for work and happy hour—because you’ll find the same jacket used for 75% less.
Before you browse retail sites, browse used clothing sites. Dip into your local thrift store, the basement of your local church (they are a gold mine of vintage and second-hand pieces, by the way), or a Beacon’s Closet in your neighborhood.
Be patient, do some treasure hunting, and find things that you love without buying them brand new once in a while.
And, hey! Notice how I didn’t say every time you want to shop for the rest of your life. Even small habit changes can add up.
In the video I posted above, there’s a statistic that suggests if everyone bought at least one second-hand item instead of a new item this year it could save 6 lbs of CO2 emissions, or the equivalent of removing a half-million cars from the road for a year.
Small actions taken by many can make a major impact. That is how the world changes. It doesn’t happen by a handful of hardcore eco-fashionistas refusing to buy new stuff for one year.
Instead, it happens when the masses make a small shift, and then another, and then another.
Are you willing to make small changes?
3. Appreciate what we already have.
This is a big one for me because it ties into the wild amount of decluttering I have done in 2019.
When Marie Kondo lit a fire under America’s collective ass on the very first day of 2019 with the release of her Netflix show, I was one of those people who would never be the same. She put words to something I’d been suspecting when I looked around at the items I owned: I didn’t feel happy about most of them.
Despite owning a lot of pretty things, I mostly felt stressed when I walked into my apartment. That’s because they didn’t “spark joy”, and I wasn’t able to appreciate them.
And thus began an epic cleanout of KonMari proportions, wherein I endeavored to clear my space of everything that didn’t spark joy in order to appreciate (and maintain) what I actively want to keep in my life.
According to more surprising stats laid out by Hasan in the first video embedded in this post (I know it’s been a journey, and I’m glad you’re still reading—we’re almost done!) by wearing something you’ve purchased for a few months longer than you might have if you’d just donated it will reduce your item’s carbon footprint by 30%.
What if you wore it for three seasons? What if you only bought timeless, versatile pieces to begin with that were your go-to pieces for years to come?
Appreciating what we already own increases our gratitude, and countless studies have proven that we are more fulfilled and happy when we’re more grateful.
What would it feel like to wake up in the morning or come home after a long day and sigh a happy, relieved sigh as you gaze upon your home, carefully curated with things you love, special memories, and clutter-free areas to unwind or work on a passion project?
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like the ultimate happiness to me.
I literally dream of that.
It will be a while before I achieve a KonMari-approved living space, but I have been trying a few things out while I work on my own home.
One practice I have adopted with some regularity (which might seem a little wacky) is completely emptying out my closet and putting things back one at a time. I take a second or two to appreciate each piece I have decided to keep—and weed out more donations—before smoothing it out and carefully hanging it according to its garment type.
This helps me stay aware of what I own (so I don’t end up buying duplicates, which I have 100% done in the past) and simply appreciate it more. The truth is, I’ll always be a lover of fashion and personal style. I love my clothes. I’ve had some that have traveled with me to 8+ different apartments and have seen me through some of the wildest, and most difficult times of my life.
I also have some newer pieces that I hope to have for many years to come.
New or old, I think the key to respecting those special pieces and their role in your life is not to cram them into the closet with 100 other things that aren’t as special.
(A vintage Forenza jacket that I plan to wear forever.)
Earlier this year I popped open a Google doc and typed out a plan to share with my mom. It was my point-by-point breakdown of how we would declutter and clean out the house for the holidays, freeing up room for my nephew Otto to have an amazing Christmas break (he loves to bounce and lounge all over a clean room).
We’re spending Black Friday cleaning out the house, donating craft supplies and fabrics to local sewing groups and people who will actively use the things we’ve been keeping “just in case” we ever have time to do that random creative project we thought of years ago.
This cleanout session is the perfect way to wrap up a year in which we both become more aware of the negative, stressful impact “stuff” has been having on our lives. We’ve probably collectively removed about 10 massive bags and 10-20 pieces of furniture. I haven’t been keeping score, but wow.
Without a doubt, this process has helped me realize how much LESS stuff was improving my life.
Space, time, peace of mind, and joy are the things we should be focusing on.
So, bottom line?
Love what you’ve got. Find happiness in what you’ve already purchased. Remember why you were excited to buy or receive what is sitting in your home. Dust things off, make space for them to shine.
Also, when you feel compelled to do something special for yourself, don’t turn to material things or a shopping binge right away. Think outside of the consumer box and imagine what else might infuse your life with some fun, some growth, some meaning.
A few things that come to mind are online classes, experiences (a special trip you’ve always wanted to take, a day at a luxe spa), digital creator tools like software, web hosting, etc! It helps to keep a list of these ideas in your to-do list app as you progress through the year so you can reference it when that bonus check hits your account.
You can also keep a list of small businesses and brands you want to patronize when the time comes (rather than being on their mailing lists and getting sale announcements and other shopping triggers year-round).
Anyway, I think we can land this plane.
To wrap this up, fashion-loving friends, don’t panic and think you have to start dressing like Steve Jobs every day and never buy another cute dress again.
All of this information is simply meant to inspire you to approach your consumption habits more thoughtfully—because if we don’t think about it, we’re left with the default subconscious messaging that tells us to waste our money and fill the landfills of the planet with more garbage.
Each time we buy something we don’t actually need, we doom it to a landfill or a donation bin in impoverished countries where it will inevitably end up destroying the local artisanal textile industry or perishing in a bonfire, spewing toxic fumes into the air.
We just need to stop shopping on impulse and for novelty, and put more care and heart into what we bring into our lives, what we gift, and what we invest in.
Karma is crucial, both physical and figurative. Let’s think harder when we get that urge to shop—especially on “shopping holidays” like Black Friday that have literally been designed to make us waste our money without considering the consequences.
I’m right here with you, learning as I go. I am just getting serious about this journey myself despite being a fan of vintage and second-hand for years. I have also been a fast fashion victim, engaging in all of the infractions I have listed above.
I want to be better at this stuff, to increase my responsibility as a consumer drastically, even though I know it won’t be a perfect journey.
Let’s be extra-careful how we let the storm of promotions, sales, and subconscious BUY NOW messages impact us this year. Because this year is not like any other year. This year is a chance to start something new.
A chance to plant the seeds for a brand new way of living: A conscious, caring, grateful lifestyle that inspires more people to become mindful and resourceful.
You with me?
I’m here to support you all the way, and I’ll be documenting my adventures on IG! Follow @heymishka and be sure to say hi.