For almost 22 years of my life, I was addicted to fast fashion. Not just a little bit, a lot.
Every week I would find myself scrolling for hours on ASOS or Topshop looking for new things to add to my ever-expanding wardrobe. I would thrive off of having new clothing and a parcel to open when I came home from work… I had no money, but I was still constantly buying new things.
Unlike most people, my love for shopping was never about the trends. The problem was that I was constantly seeing hauls on YouTube and fashion icons on social media wearing a new outfit every day, and I was well and truly sucked in.
I purchased a lot, but ironically, most of those items would just sit in my closet collecting dust before being placed in the donation pile. It was a never-ending cycle.
Before every trip, I felt like I had to have something new to wear, which is kind of ludicrous considering that people in a foreign country wouldn’t know me anyway, nor would they care about my repeating outfits. It got to the point where every few months I was sending garbage bags full of clothing to the op shop (the new landfill) because I felt like my wardrobe was too full, only to then invite it back in with a brand new item a few days later.
But thankfully, in the last 18 months, that has no longer been the case.
When I started my sustainability journey I watched all the documentaries I could, “the True Cost” being one of them. This is normally a documentary that will flip the switch for people, and although it truly opened my eyes to the issues of the fashion industry, it wasn’t necessarily the thing that helped me break free from my habits.
I became so much more aware and conscious of my purchases, but even though I was now buying ethically, it still didn’t fix my urge to shop. Eventually, all it took for me to really break up my toxic relationship with fast fashion, was a simple switch in mindset:
What I wear on my body doesn’t add any meaningful value to my life.
I know… In a literal sense, clothing is very important. But in the grand scheme of things, clothing doesn’t influence who I am at my core, and that’s what I feel is missing in the conversation.
#1 – most of the items were easily accessible and cheaper than a McDonald’s meal.
#2 – because I thought it was going to make me happy.
And #3 – because I believed they were the things that would make me feel beautiful. But here’s what I’ve learnt… Clothing does not – and will not – ever define my beauty, and it certainly won’t increase my happiness.
I do not need a new sweater every few weeks just because my friends and family have already seen all of my clothes. I do not need an excessive wardrobe to feel good about myself. I do not, and definitely should not, rely on consumerism to make me happy.
This realization that having an abundance of clothing isn’t going to help me attract the feelings that I was craving, was really all it took. Once I discovered that my self worth does not come down to my appearance, everything changed.
I now cherish the clothes I already own, and I no longer care about whether someone has already seen me in an outfit. I realized that if people are going to judge me by my appearance, it’s only a reflection of their own insecurities.
As cheesy as it sounds, you have to remember that it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Do I still care about my looks? Of course I do! I don’t wear sweat pants and a tattered t-shirt everywhere I go… The difference is that I don’t feel the need to constantly be purchasing new things or letting society manipulate me into thinking I “need” an item to fit in or feel beautiful. Because that’s the aim of fast fashion…
They make things cheaply, unethically and with poor quality, to suck you into their game. They place things strategically around the stores and follow your movement patterns… They even play specific songs that subconsciously encourage you to buy more than what you really need. It’s nonsense!
And unless you can come to the conclusion that you’re so much bigger than the shorts on your legs, the t-shirt on your back and the shoes on your feet, it’s going to be very hard to stop.
Compared to the 10 new items I was buying every month, I have only bought 2 new ethical pieces in the last year – hooray – and both of those are things that I love and will cherish for a very long time. But most importantly, instead of only wearing them twice before throwing them to the back of my closet (never to see daylight again), I will wear them to their death; and when they’re near death and looking worse for wear, I’ll repair them until they can no longer be repaired.
I am not a minimalist, and I don’t strive to be. I have a pretty full wardrobe, most of which consists of fast fashion purchases from before my shift in perspective. I’m not going to throw them all away just because of that fact… I bought those pieces, and I know that someone, somewhere in the world, worked very hard to make them for very little reward.
The difference is that instead of having a fast-paced wardrobe, I’m making mine slooooooooooow.
Fashion is important for a multitude of different reasons, there’s no doubt; it’s a creative outlet, it’s a form of identity, it expresses cultural, religious and historical beliefs, and it’s a method of self-expression! But for me personally (in my very privileged life), I could no longer let the workers, the environment or the planet pay a very heavy price for my form of self-expression. So I forced myself to change my perspective, and now we’re here!
But what I want you to really remember, is that the clothes you put on your body don’t change who you are as a person. It doesn’t make you any more beautiful than you already are. It doesn’t make you happy; it might superficially, but deep down it won’t unless you love yourself regardless of how you dress. Then, and only then, will you truly break free from the cycle.
You won’t crave 50 new pieces of clothing every year. You won’t be pressured by society and the excessive amount of advertisements that try to challenge your worth. You will realise, deep down to your core, that you are so much bigger than what you wear on your body.
Become a proud outfit repeater. Cherish the items in your closet like they’re members of your family. Go to the second-hand stores (only when you really need something) and give an old piece a new life. And if that’s not for you and you have the ability to invest in some high-quality pieces, look for ethical/sustainable alternatives instead!
Realizing that you don’t need an abundance of cheap clothing to be self-expressive, to love yourself, and to “fit-in”, is where it all begins. All you need is a few wonderful pieces that will last you a lifetime, and that you’ll cherish for years to come.
You’ll be kinder to the planet. You’ll be kinder to the people. And you’ll be kinder to yourself too.
You don’t have to hate fashion… You just have to adapt your dependence on it. Slow down, love yourself, and recognize that fashion does NOT define you!
I just today subscribed to your newsletter after seeing your terrific post on palm oil. Likewise, this post on ethical clothing is so well done and necessary! Thank you! I’d like to ask, where do you prefer to shop for ethical clothing?
That means so much! Thank you Rita XX To be honest, I’ve hardly bought any new fashion pieces for about a year now… I’ve already got a lot of clothing from before I started being conscious about my purchases, so I’m trying to wear and appreciate them for as long as possible. But I generally try to shop at second hand/thrift stores first, and if I can’t find what I’m looking for, I’ll try to find a local ethical fashion store that gives back to the local community. I’m sure there’s quite a few in your area, google is very helpful in that sense. Have a lovely day XX
Thank you so much for writing this. I really needed to read that. I just started a travelblog and i’m following more and more travelblogs and instagrams. And everyone always looks so pretty and well dressed. Lately, I’ve been buying more and more clothing because I feel like I need to look great in my next vacation pictures because everyone does. I felt happy whenever I placed an order somewhere only and even more happier when my parcels arrived, but only for seconds. I should have realized that this will not make me happy and that fast fashion is not a good thing. Thank you for sharing. You opened up my eyes!
You’re most welcome Mariska! This is such a lovely comment – I’m so glad that this post resonated with you. I used the think the same way, especially when scrolling through Instagram! But I post many photos in the same outfits, and it doesn’t bother me (or my followers) at all. The clothing isn’t what truly matters, be proud of treasuring your items and treating them with kindness! Your heart and your message are far more important than what you put on your body XXX
Isn’t it a terrible, but real comparison to McDonalds…
Feels like that’s really what it has become.
Fast food for our outer bodies… and, like McDondals, we buy it up in mass volumes, thinking it will make us happy or even satisfy our desire. And in most cases it does. But it happens about as fast as item is made. So damn quick…
Great piece. A topic that really should be making more headlines!
Haha, I am working on a post on the exact same topic, having “broken up” with FF three years ago. My wardrobe is now a mishmash of secondhand items and sustainable fabrics that I adore. I love clothes and LOVE being an outfit repeater – I don’t know why people wouldn’t want to wear flattering clothes again and again. Have you read “Green is the New Black”? That was very helpful in figuring out how to incorporate a love of fashion with a love for the planet.
Are you really?! Great minds think alike as they say ? Ahh, that’s so amazing. My wardrobe is much the same, although I do still have A LOT of fast fashion pieces from before I went through the change. I don’t feel the need to throw everything away, that seems very unsustainable to me!!!! So I’m just doing the best I can with what I already own 🙂 I haven’t read that book, but since I’m getting RIGHT into reading this year, I’ve added it to my big long list! Thank you lovely XX
True! No point getting rid of them, best to wear until they fall apart and add ’em to the ragbag! Happy reading. 🙂