Imagine walking down the street and seeing everyone wearing the exact same thing from head to toe. Kind of like a school uniform but for every person everywhere. How boring would that be? Luckily, we don’t have to do that because we have fashion, which is the forever changing trends and items that are currently popular. Fashion involves not only clothing but also music, manners and all things materialistic. Fashion allows people to represent who they are and to stand out as an individual. Unfortunately, a lot of people think that fashion has a negative impact on sustainability. Fashion is full of obsolescence, a businesses’ intent for its products to not last a long time, either from aesthetics or quality. Our world, myself included, has come to a point where we are never satisfied with what we have. As consumers, we always want to upgrade our items to stay in with the current “fashion.” When the newest iPhone comes out, I immediately begin to think, “I really need to upgrade my phone. It’s so old looking now.” Even though it works perfectly fine, I still have the strong desire to upgrade. People often feel that having the newest “it” thing impresses everyone else. It can also generate the feeling that those who have the newest thing are better than those who do not have it.
Fashion may not be the problem that is unsustainable. We as humans are the more likely cause. The ever-changing world of fashion is not a bad thing but the ways in which we use it is. I think change can be positive because we are always creating new solutions and keeping our world interesting. Maybe one of the changes could end up being a very sustainable approach to production which could completely change the way things are produced in the future.
The downfall of the constant change in fashion is the discontent it creates. Since products are always changing, it makes people want to throw out their old items and get the latest new trend. Many of those same people do not care where their old items go once they are done with them. This is where the unsustainable part of fashion comes into play. With old items being continuously thrown out, it is creating waste. And where does waste go? Landfills. Our landfills are being overcrowded with unnecessary items like appliance, electronics, carpeting and clothing. Some of these are causing our ozone to deplete, making this very unsustainable.
I am embarrassed to admit how many times I cleaned my room when I was younger and just loaded up trash bags full of clothes, books, electronics and other items that I could have easily given to someone else. It was easier for me to just get rid of it right then than to take the time to find someone to give it to or to take it to a place like Goodwill. Some of the items still had the tags on them!
Older generations would never get rid of items that were still in good working condition or that could be fixed. My generation, and even some in my parents’ generation, do not think twice about replacing a product that works just fine. To me, the idea of a shoe repair shop is crazy. Why would I spend the money to fix a pair of older shoes when I could use that money to buy a new pair that are in style? I wonder if the generations after those that suffered through the Depression were tired of those older than them saving everything? They did not let anything go to waste and often found ways to repurpose worn out items. What if my generation began to try to find ways to repurpose things? Do we really not care or have we just never thought about it? What if we become the generation that changes that by focusing on repurposing and making do with what we have and teaching future generations to do the same?
In addition to products being made to last a short time, we also have under- and over-consumers. Under-consumers are people who consume below the average consumption rates and are usually affiliated with the poor, lower classes. Over-consumers are people who consume tremendously more than the average consumption rates and are usually in the wealthier class.
Under-consumers usually cannot afford the extra things like 20 pairs of shoes or 30 different dresses. Since they cannot afford a lot of things, why would they spend the little money they have on items they know are not going to last them a long time? Over-consumers are the ones who like to buy things just for the fun of it. They want the latest and greatest items because that is what is in “fashion” at the time. Businesses thrive off over-consumers because they know that no matter the quality of their product or how long it will last, their consumers will purchase the next item or the upgrade to replace it. There is an endless cycle between businesses and over-consumers. I find that I have the mindset of an over-consumer, but I’m learning that I really need to start thinking about whether my wants are really that important compared to the quality of our earth. Do I really need another romper when I already have 5 in my closet? And if I’m not going to wear the ones I have, what am I going to do with them? Can I give them to a friend or a battered women’s shelter, use the material for a project of some kind or something along those lines instead of just trashing them?
Some people think businesses focus more on over-consumers and do not think about under-consumers and how their obsolescent products negatively impact them. Under-consumers are often thought of as being directly correlated with environmental degradation. I feel that both under-consumers and over-consumers contribute to unsustainable ways that lead to environmental degradation. Over-consumers purchase items that are not necessarily needed, which causes a cycle of throwing out old items and purchasing new ones, causing unnecessary waste and pollution. On the other hand, under-consumers cannot afford to purchase products that will not last a long time, because they will have to replace them quickly. Under-consumers also can’t afford to purchase products that will last a long time because they are so expensive and hard to find. They often rely on agriculture and farming as their primary source of money to be able to afford these things. This causes environmental degradation by using up our limited natural resources like forests and mining.
In one sense, I feel that there is some effort by the industry or individuals to help both types of consumers. There are consignment stores that will allow the under-consumers who do not have as much money to be able to buy things that the over-consumers no longer want. Instead of going to a landfill, the clothes can be passed on to other people that would be happy to have things that are still in very good condition but no longer wanted by those who originally purchased them.
On the other hand, I do not think that the industry is willing to make a switch from unsustainable to sustainable efforts and materials. It is an endless cycle of making money and harming the environment. The industry is very greedy in the sense that they will not make less of their products to cater to the environmental needs. Or they will not change the materials used to source sustainable materials because they cost more. They seem to only care about how much money that are making and how to invent the next big thing to hit the market.
Many businesses and consumers do not really seem to care that with every product made and purchased, it must end up somewhere once they are done with it. But if the industry started making sustainable ones, would I be willing to purchase it? What if I did not like the look or feel of the product? Would it be worth the sacrifice to purchase something better for the environment? If that was not the only option available, would I really be open to purchasing it and not having the latest and greatest that my friends would probably have? Even if the industry tried to make sustainable products, would they fail because consumers would not purchase them if given a choice?
I think that if we are going to try and change our ways to make the earth more sustainable, we need to ease into it and not just suddenly switch all at once. I think it is possible for us to become sustainable, but I think it will take time, effort and easing into it from both the over-consumers, under-consumers and the industry. And I feel that after this time of transition, it would make the most impact if there was no choice between the two. Given the choice between a product that is made to be sustainable versus a product meant to look good and make the purchaser feel good, consumers will go with the latter most of the time. The best solution of all would be to make sustainable products that people will want to buy and keep. Easier said than done.