hiking outdoors

Over the past six months or so I’ve been paying more and more attention to where the things I buy are sourced from. This covers everything from tofu to trainers, candles to concealer. I realise that I find myself in a highly detached society: one that thinks Amazon pulls products out the air and ships them to us.

This isn’t a good thing. If we’re unaware of the process of getting whatever item it is to our doorstep, how are we monitoring whether the supplier is doing a good job or not? Just as we don’t think about where our trash goes once it’s collected from the kerb, we’re not thinking of the entire process when we purchase a shirt to wear. At least, not most of us.

This kind of blissful ignorance is what is fuelling bad practices across many (if not all) industries. Consumption is greater than ever and the demand to push prices down also greater than ever. Suppliers want to accommodate and so if this means forgoing ethics, many will unfortunately comply.

I know marketing is a clever industry and it’s aim is to convince us that we need x, y, or z. But I didn’t realise until recently just how wrong I was about one particular industry: outdoor clothing & technical gear.

From the months of March-November (though sometimes in winter too) I look for any opportunity to pack up the tent, don my gore-tex and get some fresh air in my lungs. Whether it’s hiking a mountain or getting some waves, I thrive in the great outdoors.

In order to participate in these kinds of activities, appropriate “technical” clothing and kit is often required. Up until recently, I’ve purchased whatever is on offer in my favourite outdoor chains. I guess I had this idea that brands producing items for allowing one to be more comfortable/prepared in nature must also care about nature. See the link there? Sadly, I’ve discovered that this truly isn’t the case. It seems outdoor brands are closer to the fashion industry in terms of ethics.

This excellent round-up from Ethical Consumer goes into detail about a variety of brands and aspects of  what is considered ethical manufacturing & supply. I highly encourage you check it out.

There are some new items that I’m due to be purchasing very soon. But with this now knowledge floating around my brain, I refuse to simply purchase the next thing I see that looks nice and fits well (or is technically-sound). There’s a lot of research to be done, but watch this space because I’ll be bringing my findings to you. The ethical brands are not the mainstream ones, but it’s important that they get a voice. If we talk about them more, they will become more widely acknowledged.

Photo via Unsplash

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Consumerism

Consumerism. That’s a word that gets thrown around pretty frequently and fashionably these days. And in an unpretentious manner, I feel it a great thing that we’re talking about it. Mass-production, monopolisation, advertising, and the endless quest for the next best thing. All of these create the ideal formula for a culture of mass-consumerism.

If we feel something is missing in our lives – a state all to familiar to most of us – one of the easiest ways to temporarily overcome that is to buy something to try to fill the void. There’s eating too, which is a weakness for many people, but generally speaking shopping is the major culprit. Retail therapy, anyone?

Whether it’s a gadget, a pair of shoes or an extra cushion for the bed, there’s always one more thing we’re led to believe will make our lives more complete. Complete and happier. But how often is this really the case? Think about your own experience. How many times have you tricked yourself into thinking that if you just buy that one thing, you’ll feel content? What do you find actually happens? Once you buy that one thing, you want another and then another. The cycle is vicious and never-ending.

What is it that we’re trying to achieve with all these purchases? Ultimately it is happiness, although the exact aspect we’re going for varies for each of us.

If I consume I’ll be worthy

Depending on how we were raised, some of us struggle in life with self-worth. Eternal perfectionists, we feel we’re never good enough. We’re never whole enough. One extra purchase to embellish our person or our surroundings offers the juicy hope that we can go in the direction we want. We fool ourselves into believing that one more item will improve us.

The reality is that this will never be the case. No amount of material goods is going to satiate your poor inner child’s habitual belief that he or she is not good enough. No item adds to or depletes you of value. You are good enough exactly as you are.

One of the most unavoidable and detrimental ways of basking in a lack of self-worth is through comparing yourself to others. In this digital day and age and it being rarer and rarer to be truly off the beaten-track, we are bombarded with everyone’s ‘best side’. Everyone’s attributes are flaunted and their flaws disguised. It’s no wonder so many of us consistently do not feel good enough!

If I consume I’ll find purpose

This is a pretty common one too. So many of us walk into adulthood or leave university feeling hopeless. We settle into jobs that don’t fuel our passions. Before long we feel defeated entirely. It’s easy to settle into a trap of feeling sorry for yourself. It’s so easy to accept a miserable shell-of-yourself existence. You live for the weekends and repeatedly suppress your hopes and dreams with drinking and drug use. It’s simply too painful to live wide-eyed and fully aware of how wrong a path you’re on and how impossible getting onto the right one feels.

Aside from suppressing your emotions with drugs and alcohol, there is the temporary high from buying. Clothes, cars, bigger houses, jewellery, the latest phone; all of these things offer a momentary welcome relief. However, ultimately they clog our environment and further emphasise the gaping void inside each of us.

Purpose is not found at the mall. Purpose comes from getting to know yourself fully, forming meaningful relationships with others and focussing on what feels good. If that is buying a particular item to  allow you to live your purpose then of course that’s a wonderful thing. But buying for the sake of buying is not.

Meaningful Consumerism

Open your eyes and you will see that the sales are permanent, there is always a deal on somewhere and there is no need to succumb to the urgency of ‘BUY IT NOW!’ that retailers and advertisers aim to bestow upon you. Purchases should be well-thought-out, meaningful and without the air of impulse.

When you buy an item, you are supporting all aspects of the industry that got that item within your grasp. That’s the ethos of the individual or team who dreamed the idea, the people who worked to make it come to fruition, the stockist and so on and so forth.

Something that I have grown rather passionate about is this idea of ‘fast fashion’ and how many of us are totally oblivious to where our clothes come from. We see an item within our price range and purchase it. But we don’t really think about how long it’ll last, who made it for us, what environmental impact it has had. And that’s sad.

I discovered the idea of a capsule wardrobe a while back and found it utterly brilliant. A capsule and slow fashion are synonymous to me. Creating a capsule is a process of bringing consciousness into your wardrobe. Less is more. Quality over quantity. Ethics over greed. Check out this post here, written a while ago for how I created a capsule wardrobe from Cladwell’s excellent ‘Capsules’.

There are so many areas of my life that I want to transform to something more ethical; living more harmoniously with the planet. Consumerism on a mass-scale for toxic reasons is so not the one. Funding large-scale corporations who rate how much profit they make higher than their environmental impact is not something I believe in and I am committed to supporting sustainable industry entirely.

 

Photo: Flickr

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