Excess Consumerism: Is it possible to be an ethical shopaholic?

Today was a day of good charity shop finds.  These shoes cost me £2, and I also bought a white t-shirt for 50p (which I put in the washing machine before I could take a photo).

Anyway.  I could now write about my love of charity shops, but I feel like I’ve done it many many times before.  So I dug out an article I wrote for a campus magazine a few years ago which sums it up quite nicely.

Excess Consumerism: Is it possible to be an ethical shopaholic?

I like to think of myself as ethically minded, but shopping is a serious hobby of mine.  When I voice this dilemma to friends they usually point out that many of the stores I avoid do have ‘ethical’ options.  For example, New Look and Dorothy Perkins stock clothes made from organic cotton, and Marks and Spencer’s have a Fair Trade range.

I’ve always been a little sceptical about this.  What makes me uncomfortable about high street shopping is the amount of new clothes people seem to buy.  Is Fair Trade Cotton the biggest issue when each year the average UK consumer buys 35kg of textiles and sends 30kg to landfill?  Not that I consider fairly traded cotton and sweatshop labour to be unimportant, far from it.  But while these issues are gaining more and more publicity, the need to stop buying new things is often ignored.

How can the current trend for disposable fashion be sustainable?  Our ‘throw away’ mentality highlights a whole number of issues.  Developed countries make up only 20% of the world population but consume over 80% of the earth’s natural resources, causing a disproportionate level of environmental damage and unfair distribution of wealth.  Modern consumerism might offer us choice, but people need to realise that it comes at a cost.

In a bid to make my own stand, a couple of months ago I decided to give up new clothes.  As a former Topshop addict I feared this would be no easy task. But despite the temptation posed by mid-season sale posters in shop windows, I have been pleasantly surprised. A key benefit is affordability, and unlike when buying the bulk of your wardrobe from Primark, you aren’t running the risk of wearing the same dress as three other girls in your seminar.  Hunting for outfits in charity shops can also be quite fun, and what you should be wearing isn’t dictated to you in the same way as in fashion stores.  Unfortunately this has meant that I’m actually shopping a lot more, but at least by ‘recycling’ clothes my habit isn’t damaging the environment.  Besides, as I’ve now resigned myself to spending the majority of my student loan on clothes, I’d rather it go to charity that line the pockets of some large corporation.  Although its not strictly anti-consumerist (I still enjoy buying things, even if they aren’t new) I’m happy to find a way of shopping which agrees with both my conscience and bank balance.


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