Breaking up with Clothes Shopping June 13 2018 1 Comment

What happens when you have to break up your relationship with shopping?

I'll tell you... You grieve. Grief can be apparent over a long period of time, or you can heal and move on quite quickly, but either way according to Swiss psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (who wrote a book on the subject) everyone has to go through 5 stages.

Looking back on it now, I can see all of these stages and I found myself stuck in each one for a long time, but I think I've finally reached number 5.

I first realised that there was something fundamentally wrong with the fashion industry when I began to research resources for my first fashion range produced in 2012, and even though I was beginning to understand, I was still able to separate my ‘business’ from my personal shopping habits. So, while I was making decisions about organic fabrics, I was still buying things from Target. You know why? I was in Stage 1, DENIAL......

My internal dialogue would go something like this:
'It's not really that bad.'            
'They wouldn't sell it, if it was really that bad.'  
'People are inherently good.'

But then the disaster happened at Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh and 1100 garment workers lost their lives, with double that number injured. When the factory collapsed, I sat down and said to myself, 'I knew something like this was going to happen’. I couldn't avoid the truth anymore. It was that day I moved into Stage 2which is ANGER.

Then my internal dialogue changed to....
'If brands in the industry know what I do, how can they continue to work in this way?'
'If they don't know, how can they be this ignorant?'

This stage lasted for more than 2 years and during this time I hardly bought anything, and my wardrobe became depleted. At this point, I realised that I had started to move into Stage 3 - BARGAINING.

This was a dangerous time, because at this point, I made some suspect decisions. I started to question how I would balance my ethics in terms of importance. The problem with getting high and mighty with your morals is that you're left with limited options, and therefore every purchase becomes a trade off. So, my internal dialogue changed again to something like this:

'If I buy this ethical item, then I can still buy these leather boots.'
'If I'm doing the right thing most of the time, then I can still shop at that High Street brand occasionally, even though it gets a bad rap.'
'If it's Fair Trade made it's OK that it's still leather/cashmere....'

Well there's nothing like guilt and confusion to send you into a DEPRESSION! And that's exactly what Stage 4 is called.

So there I was, depressed by the lack of options. Depressed by ethical products only really being available online. 'I really want to try things on!' Depressed by the emptiness of my wardrobe. After 4 years there was hardly anything left that didn't look old, had holes in, or I had just moved on from. I knew I had the skills to buy again, but I was suffering from buyers paralysis, when an item didn't tick all my boxes. Or when I had to buy something quickly and hadn't left myself enough time to choose well.

I also started to feel bad about myself because I had nothing nice to wear. I hadn’t realised that my wardrobe was so meshed with my self-confidence, and during this I was filled with self loathing and discomfort.

Then my internal dialogue became something like this:
'There aren't enough options'
'I want to try things on'
'Everything ethical costs more money!'
‘I'm pissed off that I can't buy the same fabrics that I used to'

Finally though I think I have come to the final stage, ACCEPTANCE.

Life will never be like it was before I became conscious, but I have accepted that this new life is better. Becoming educated gave me freedom from ignorance. I have never wanted to live in the darkness, now I know I never will again.

Having accepted this new life means finding ways to start the conversation with other people. How do I do that? Well, I'm still trying to work that out. I’ve found that I have to be measured in the amount of information I give at one time, otherwise people will shut down. I was the first of my friends to travel on this journey, and I'm glad that no one tried to shame me when I bought that top from XXX brand during my ‘falling off the wagon’ period.

I'm trying to find a way of responding well to friends, who want me to celebrate their bargain hunting, but most of the time I just nod and smile.

'Isn't it awesome that I bought this dress for $10.....' Internally my response is 'Well no, not for me anymore.' Then I watch as the realisation dawns on them that it was like asking me how I was celebrating Father's Day, after my dad had passed away. I feel helpless at their discomfort, and want to fix it for them, but it's too late. Maybe it's a good thing, a chance to open up a conversation about it. Give them just a little tit bit and get them thinking.

'Hey, have you tried using that new app 'Good on you'? It tells you if a brand is ethical or not.

I never wanted to feel like a social pariah, but nevertheless it's happened, just like a death, and eventually you have to move on.

One friend asked me to tell her all about my research, and sometime later she said she'd regretted it. That afterwards she hadn't been able to get the information out of her mind and now she can never return to her days of innocence. I wonder what stage she was at by then? Maybe stage 2..... I'll have to ask her where she is now. Or maybe I should wait until she brings it up? Grief is such an individual experience, but now I’ve travelled to the other side, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to provide more support to anyone else who is going through it. Fingers crossed.