You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘Conscious Consumer’ or ‘Conscious Consumption’ being thrown around, but what does it all actually mean? Firstly, the term ‘conscious’ means ‘to be aware of’ and responding to your actions or surroundings. In general, being conscious means you have knowledge of something. The term ‘consumer’ is a person who purchases goods and services for their personal use. It is also someone/something that eats or uses something. So, a ‘Conscious Consumer’ is someone who is aware of and critically thinks about what they are purchasing. They also think about the company they buy from. Many of us don’t realise that we are financially supporting companies we may not agree with ethically, socially and philosophically.
The Downward Spiral Of ‘Retail Therapy’..
I shopped for the same reasons most people shop; Boredom or feeling down and craving some ‘retail therapy’. Also, because I was happy I just got paid and could finally ‘treat myself’. I bought cheap clothes, obsessed over shoes sale and took full advantage of a great ‘buy-one-get-one’ deal on beauty products. Mainly because I thought they’d make me look better, seem more interesting and feel amazing. Or so I thought. I convinced myself I could literally buy a better me. And I am not alone in thinking this.
Advertisements were always telling me that this is the new and best thing I could buy!
Then the next week it’s something different…so when I didn’t or couldn’t buy it, I’d feel left behind.
I worked all day, to earn money to buy things, that I was told would make me happy. But of course, they didn’t. The next day, I’d go back to work, so I could buy something else that I was told would make me feel better. But again, it didn’t. Then I’d spend more money to repair or replace these things because they’d keep breaking or wearing down. Overall this cycle just made me more unhappy. I began to see an unpleasant pattern.
We live in a time now where we rely heavily on ‘quick fix’ solutions. So anything else feels like a waste of time. Need an instant answer to something? A quick Google search will tell you what you want to know. Craving an authentic Italian pizza at 1am? Sorted, 30 minutes delivery to your door or your money back! Want top designer, runway trends at ridiculously low prices? Here, have hundreds of new items in store per week also available online!
Sometimes these speedy results are awesome. I love that I can learn anything I want in seconds (thanks internet). Or get moorish Indian food at unsociable hours. But I eventually realised that the rush of instant happiness from buying something new was short lived. And most of the time left me feeling worse. (Not Indian food of course, I’d bathe in that if I could.)
My biggest obsession was fashion. The time I spent walking around the store and trying on clothes was all just a blur. I got bored in the evenings, maxing out credit cards ordering a tonne of things online without a single thought. I enjoyed wearing my new shiny outfit the first few times, but eventually I was bored of it. Trends changed and something else replaced it pretty quickly. That, or I washed it a few times and it didn’t feel as soft anymore. Often the colour would fade, even though I followed the laundry labels. It would end up in the back of my closet for months, until I had one of my military-style, organising sessions. I would eventually decide to recycle it or donate it to charity. Or worse, throw it away as it had turned into nothing more but a worn-out rags.
The Journey To Becoming A Conscious Consumer
It wasn’t until I moved out of my apartment did I realise just how much stuff I had accumulated. And I was moving into an even tinier studio with my partner, so down-sizing was a must. I was moving from the UK to the Netherlands, so I also needed to fit my entire life into my old VW Polo for the drive down. Most things were easy to downsize, like kitchen and furniture that I had no attachment to. We went to many car-boot sales (thats the British version of flee-markets or yard-sales for the US readers) and sold some stuff online. I minimised a lot, and what was left I decided to take to a charity shop (or thrift store).
Now this is when my big ‘Conscious Consumer’ transition happened. I walked into my local charity shop with numerous bags of clothes and shoes (that were pretty much like new). The person working there told me straight away ‘Sorry, we can’t take any more donations, we are full’. I had been taking clothes to charity shops for years, and I’d never been told this. I asked the man ‘Don’t you have space in the back or some warehouse you store clothes to sell? They will get thrown away otherwise and it’s all in great condition.’. This is when he took me to the huge storage room round the back of the store…
Read Next ⫸ What Really Happens To Your Clothing Donations
There were mountains of clothes! As far as my eyes could see, from floor to ceiling. There were piles upon piles of garbage bags full of clothes. Whole walls full of clothing rails, we could barely walk through the room. I noticed that some clothes even still had their original brand labels. He then began to explain to me exactly what happens to all the clothing donations that they can’t sell. For this, I explain in much more detail in the article What Really Happens To Your Charity Clothing Donations.
Our desire for cheap, disposable fast fashion in the UK (and around the world) has gotten out of hand. Did you know that consumers in the UK ditch over a million tonnes of clothes each year? Some go to recycling companies that are able to sell mass amounts abroad. But a large amount still goes to landfill. More often than not, these landfills are in under-developed countries that do not have the facilities to deal with this huge amount of waste. The fashion industry is considered the second most polluting industry in the world. A recent study showed that ‘the UK is the fourth largest producer of textile waste in Europe‘.
This got me to thinking, what can I do to reduce my personal environmental impact? That was easy to answer. I started by being more aware of what I choose to spend my money on and what companies I supported. In other words, by become a ‘Conscious Consumer’.
I understand that there is a whole world of people who are scraping by, valuing every last penny. Many people do not have the access to other options. Nor do they have the privilege to choose what to spend their income on. Everyone can only do what is within their power, and what is best for themselves and their family. For those people who have a more ‘disposable income‘, there’s a responsibility to be aware of where their money goes. We all need to know more about the products, companies and businesses we choose to spend our money with. Subsequently, when we buy something, we are setting the demand for a company to produce more.
The True Cost Of Fast Fashion
Let’s put it this way. When I buy a pair of jeans for £6, I am essentially telling that company to make more jeans just like it. I am directly supporting their unsustainable and unethical practices.
It takes on average around 2,000 gallons (7,600 litres) of water to make just one pair of jeans. This includes the farming of the cotton and the manufacturing stages. Our favourite 90’s fashion staple gets churned out of China’s Xintang province with up to 300 million pairs a year. These factories dump their water waste into rivers, ecosystems and neighbouring communities. Consequently, carrying a horrifying concoction of lethal chemicals with it.
80% of these workers, mainly women, claim they have been subject to sexual abuse and harassment on a daily basis.
Countries like China, Bangladesh and India are facing a mass public health crisis from working in these factories. Also by breathing in the toxic fumes. The surrounding villages also rely on these rivers for their water supply. Some people might think ‘That problem is on the other side of the world, it doesn’t effect me’. Oh but it does. Those chemicals remain on the jeans, seep into the skin of the buyer, and get released into the oceans from our washing machines.
Along with their newly developed illnesses, garment workers get paid below minimum wage. They have to work long, grueling hours to make ends meet. 80% of these workers, mainly women, claim they are subject to sexual abuse and harassment on a daily basis. Up to 90% say their job has a damaging and negative impact on their health. As writer Lucy Siegel puts it ‘Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere is paying for it.’.
Suddenly, that £6 pair of jeans was not looking very appealing to me.
The Power Of The Consumer – Taking Back Control
All this made me feel lied to. Making the decision to quit fast fashion was easy for me once I learned the truth. And I believe many other people would think twice before supporting these brands if only they knew too. For me, fashion was only the beginning.
Once I started researching where other items I purchased were being made, I often came to the same results. From shoes to electronics, even the food I bought. Poor working conditions, low or no pay, deadly chemicals, environmental injustices, human rights violations, sexual violence, child labour, mass waste…AAHHHH!
Anyone else just simply had enough?! (It get’s more positive I swear!)
I’m not saying that everyone should stop buying anything and cut up their credit cards. Please don’t crawl into a deep hole of post-consumer darkness (Been there, trust me, there’s another way!). It is completely normal to feel overwhelmed and hopeless. I thought there was nothing I could do, what’s the point? I’m just one person, how could I make a difference? Said 7 billion people…
We should never underestimate our power as a consumer. A few bad reviews can ruin a business and negative press can damage a company’s image beyond repair. Publicly pressuring a company to pay their workers and demanding transparency is all possible from behind your computer. Companies don’t want their image tainted, so conscious consumer s can collectively influence positive change.
My only aim is to make people aware, allowing them to take back control of their life. We can all make our own conscious choices. Too long have we all been brainwashed by clever marketing (I’ve got the power!). Enough is enough.
5 Ways To Be A More Conscious Consumer
Being a Conscious Consumer starts with asking yourself a few questions before you make your purchase:
1 – Take a good look at your spending habits, is there something in particular you spend the most money on?
2 – Do these things make you happy?
3 – Did they make someone else unhappy?
4 – What ethics does this company have, if any?
5 – Is there a way I can still enjoy these things, but not contribute to harming someone else or the planet?
99% of the time, yes. There is a way.
By making conscious choices not to spend our money with unethical companies, we are collectively saying ‘No, it’s not okay what you’re doing and together we are demanding a change’.
Find out what you need to be truly happy, because I guarantee you, you won’t find it at the store.
Read Next ⫸ Coronavirus Inspires Sustainable Living Habits
Stephen Leahy – ‘Your Water Footprint: The Shocking Facts About How Much Water We Use to Make Everyday Product’
Eco Watch – The Environmental and Human Cost of Making a Pair of Jeans
River Blue Documentary
The True Cost Documentary
The Good Trade – What Is Fast Fashion?
Action Aid – Garment Worker Stories
Think Sustainability Blog – The Unsustainable Growth of Fast Fashion