Consumerism: A Profound Wake-Up Call

Over the past few months, the once notorious air pollution in China and Hong Kong has decreased so sharply that the change is visible on satellite photos. The water in Italy’s formerly murky canals has cleared so completely that sea life has returned. People have even reported spotting swans in Italy’s waterways. The peaks of the Himalayas are visible from Punjab, India, for the first time in 30 years.

Furthermore, many families have spent every waking hour together, doing simple, fulfilling things as a unit...like cooking, playing, gardening, and making crafts. 

What a time to be alive. We are all able to directly witness the profound results that stem from the collective decision to do and consume less. And, while we aren’t celebrating the reason this decision came about, we cannot help but acknowledge what happens when we take a step back and only do what is essential: our planet and our relationships begin to heal. 

So...as we prepare for our world to return to “normal,” we are also recognizing that now is the time to take stock and define what parts of normal we actually want to return to. We can’t unsee once we’ve seen. We can’t unknow what we now know. 

For our house and for our planet, it’s clear that less is more...and simple is better...and the relentless, mainstream, modern culture of consumerism has decimating effects that no longer serve us.

So what if, together, we can see this pause as a catalyst for evaluating our deeply held belief systems, especially in regard to challenging our addictions to consuming things we don’t need, things we don’t treasure or value, and things that are not good for us or our planet?

It can be incredibly difficult to make this shift, simply because old habits die hard and because our cultural norms are still both ingrained in us and surrounding us everywhere we look. But if our conviction is strong enough, and we have the support of this like-minded community, we have the wherewithal to inspire and empower one another toward an elevated way of living and being...one that is more congruent with our true desires and more aware, intentional, and ethical about the world we’re creating for ourselves and our children. What a beautiful thing!  

Now more than ever, Abi and I are dedicated to furthering our mission of carving out a path for a simpler, more sustainable, and conscious future that values quality over quantity, prioritizes the health and well-being of both those who make and wear our clothes, and chooses earth-friendly practices at each and every turn. 

Here’s what we’ve uncovered so far, along with some ideas on how we can all continue to challenge consumerism in our lives.

Waking Up: An Inside Look at Consumer Culture vs. Ethical Fashion

It’s part of our beautiful human nature to create art, meaningful tools, and objects that stimulate our minds and improve our lifestyles. 

The problem is when consumerism becomes mindless and automatic, it turns into excess consumption, which rears its ugly head to reveal more pressure, more envy, more financial and emotional stress, less freedom, less generosity, less trust in ourselves, and a truly horrifying mark on our environment. 

Mass consumerism's troubling effects run as deep as they do wide, and while the fashion industry isn’t the only one in dire need of an overhaul, it’s our area of expertise, so we’ll start there. Over the last few decades, the production process has accelerated like never before due to globalization, industry competition, and the instant gratification mentality of today’s consumer culture. 

You might be shocked to learn the true expense of our collective fast fashion habit. In fact, according to the Global Fashion Agenda in 2017, if the industry doesn’t change, and it’s fashion business as usual, the apparel industry’s climate impact is expected to increase 49% by 2030.1 That alone is jarring. Consider these additionally alarming statistics:

Impact on the environment...

  • The fashion industry’s CO2 emissions are projected to increase to nearly 2.8 billion tons per year by 2030—equivalent to the emissions of 230 million passenger vehicles driven for a year.1
  • About 10% of all global carbon emissions come from the fashion industry alone.2 And the fashion industry consumes more energy than the shipping and aviation industries combined.2
  • Producing a single pair of conventional cotton jeans typically uses 7,500 to 10,000 liters of water. That’s as much as an average person drinks in 10 years!3
  • It takes approximately 70 million barrels of oil each year to make the polyester fiber that goes into clothing—giving a polyester garment about double the heavy carbon footprint of an equivalent cotton one.4
  • Over 10 million tons of textiles were dumped in landfills in 2017—and almost another three million tons were incinerated.5 As if this isn’t wasteful enough, The World Bank estimates that in certain countries, as much as 40% of clothing purchased is never even worn once.6

Impact on human beings...

  • In Pakistan’s garment sector, 87% of women are paid less than the minimum wage.1
  • More than 50% of workers within the fast fashion industry worldwide are paid very little, and many of them are children living in deplorable conditions with zero regulation.1
  • 63% of textile fibers are derived from petrochemicals with polyester and cotton dominating the global textiles and fiber market, 51% and 24% respectively.8
  • Polyester comes from the same resins used to make plastic, and the inhalation of these resins has been shown to irritate the respiratory tract, cause nausea, and aggravate the skin.7 
  • Approximately 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used throughout the world to turn raw materials into textiles, including dangerous synthetic chemical pesticides, weed killers, bleaches, toxic dyes, and hundreds of other toxic chemicals routinely used in conventional cotton farming and manufacturing. These toxins make their way into the fabrics in our clothes and are often shown to be carcinogenic, cause birth defects and productive issues in animals, and are otherwise incredibly hazardous for delicate human skin and our planet.7

      The bottom line is that fast fashion offers consumers an opportunity to buy more clothes for less, but these clothes are often laden with toxins and those who work in or live near textile manufacturing facilities bear a disproportionate burden of social and environmental dysregulation.

      If you’re interested in learning more about the sheer impact of fast, disposable fashion on a global scale and the unhealthy, unethical, unsustainable production methods associated with it, the book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline is an excellent resource. 

      As disturbing as these statistics are, they’re only the tip of the iceberg. We can apply this same logic to all of the other items in our growing collection of things as we’ve inadvertently been trying to keep up with the Joneses over the years. You see, fast fashion is a result of consumerism...a symptom, if you will. The psychology and culture of consumerism is the root issue and its consequences span all industries and drive an ever increasing spiral of craving, consumption, emissions, and depletion of natural resources. 

      We have no choice but to unsubscribe from the mainstream if we are to change our ways.

      Not This: Opting Out of the Culture of Consumerism 

      Unless we’ve done everything perfectly (and let’s face it, we’re all learning here), we all face that terrible moment in which we realize that we have somehow made a choice that didn’t have a great impact on ourselves, our children, or our planet. Elizabeth Gilbert calls this moment of realization, “not this,” and it’s the perfect way to describe the precursor toward making a conscious shift out of excess consumerism. No, not this. 

      Personally, I’ve had many of these “not this” moments along the way in regard to many aspects of our lives and our family. For us, traveling and changing our setting often helps us to stay on the edge of our comfort zones. We strive to live with a deep, internal knowing that less, simple, and slower helps us feel lighter, happier, healthier, and more sustainable. It helps us break the routine we once had of buying “stuff” that is low quality, a product of questionable practices, or that we don’t actually need or won’t truly love. 

      We’re simply becoming conscious of what we have in our lives and keeping things as lean as possible. But you don’t have to make a radical move overseas to become conscious of the consumerism in your life, you can start by asking yourself a few key questions and challenging yourself with honesty and love. 

      When you are rooted in what you believe and know your decisions do indeed matter, it makes it that much easier to shift into a life with more meaning and joy regardless of what those around you are doing. It’s time to take the lead!

      Here are several ways you can take a deep look and intentionally challenge consumerism in your life. 

      • Stop and take a look around you. Evaluate your current choices and habits with an intimate eye. What’s your spending like? Do you feel joyful and aligned each day? What’s draining you? Is more more? Or is less more?
      • Consider the hidden costs and benefits of the purchases you make. Will I love and treasure this? Why is this item so cheap? What’s behind the curtain? Who made this and how was it made? Was it made with the environment in mind? Will it last? What is the ethos behind this product and what’s the larger contribution?
      • Study your motivations. Consider what triggers your desire so you can see advertisements with a clear mind. If you feel that impulse to purchase, take that extra moment to consider what’s pulling you toward this product and why. Where are you feeling insecure or less than in your life and how do your purchases contribute?
      • Seek to purchase clothing or other consumer goods that are made to last over the long haul, and require minimal maintenance expense. Before buying, step back and ask yourself if you really need this thing or if you just want it. What will this item’s life cycle look like? Will it live on, be recycled or upcycled, or end in a landfill? If it breaks, will you mend it? Or even, could you make it yourself?
      • Practice slow fashion—buying select, well-made garments that can mix and match and will last for years rather than a cheap disposable wardrobe that needs to be replaced every season.
      • Make mending a habit. Build up your collection of essential purchases and take pride in caring for and fixing them when they need mending. It can be so deeply satisfying.
      • Give your things away. Share with love, pass down heirlooms, regift clothing that no longer fits. Create a culture of sharing and upcycling quality items to keep them out of our landfills and oceans, and encourage your friends and family to do the same.
      • Remember you vote with your dollars. So, before you make that purchase, does it line up with who you know yourself to be and what you value and stand for?
      • Choose experiences over things. Intentionally opt out, slow down, and savor the ones around you and the environment you’re in. 

        If anything, we’ve proven to ourselves over the last several weeks that the stuff in our closets and cupboards and the things on our calendars are not necessary for us to lead happy and fulfilling lives...in fact, they may very well be our biggest obstacle. 

        How The Simple Folk Is Leading the Way

        Getting clear on our values and opting out of the mass consumer frenzy is truly what led us to start The Simple Folk in the first place—because not only do our children deserve quality garments but the future of fashion (and a sustainable world in general) requires a brand new way of thinking. 

        Everything we offer from play clothes to luxuriously soft sleepwear is sustainably, ethically crafted with love in small batches from safe, natural, and organic materials. We’ve poured our hearts into creating a game-changing, intentional fashion brand that would serve as an example for how clothing production ought to be. 

        Abi and I have stayed up many nights, changed directions, shed a few tears, and have otherwise gone to great lengths in considering the environmental and human implications of crafting our collection from where and how our fabrics are sourced and where our clothes are made, to the working environment of the esteemed artisans who make them and even how we price our garments.

        The reality is that the finished cost of our items is often more than the retail price of things sold at big box stores—which is why it can be so challenging for many to make the switch. So, Abi and I made the decision early on that in order to impact change on the level we’d like to see, we’d have to reject the traditional clothing markup of 5-6x.

        We decided that the only way to entice many consumers to the other side and to enable them to vote for a healthier world with their dollars is to absorb much of the price difference ourselves, which is why we’ve opted to reduce our profit margins and to only mark our items up 3-4x. Yes, we’re bringing radical change through transparency because it matters! 

        Further, our collection is both OEKO-TEX® and GOTS certified so you can feel assured that the clothes your children are wearing are clean and free of toxins. Read more about our process and commitment to transparency and sustainability; I promise you this, we set the bar as high as possible. 

        This current crisis is a profound wake-up call—shedding light on just how precious our lives are, what actually matters to us, and how much is really at stake. When this period of isolation ends, we each get to decide if we want to go back to the status quo or if we have the courage to strive for something better. The buck stops here. What’s next for this world is up to all of us.


        References:

        1. Global Fashion Agenda (2017) Pulse of the Fashion Industry. Boston Consulting Group. https://www.globalfashionagenda.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Pulse-of-the-Fashion-Industry_2017.pdf
        1. UNECE. (2018). UN Alliance aims to put fashion on the path to sustainability. UNECE Homepage. https://www.unece.org/info/media/presscurrent-press-h/forestry-and-timber/2018/un-alliance-aims-to-put-fashion-on-path-to-sustainability/doc.html
        1. United Nations. (2020). UN Helps Fashion Industry Shift to Low Carbon | UNFCCC. https://unfccc.int/news/un-helps-fashion-industry-shift-to-low-carbon
        1. Muthu, S. S. (2019). Environmental Footprints of Recycled Polyester. Springer.
        1. Textiles: Material-Specific Data. (2019). US EPA. https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/textiles-material-specific-data
        1. How Much Do Our Wardrobes Cost to the Environment? (2019). World Bank. https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2019/09/23/costo-moda-medio-ambiente
        1. Sandin, Lenzing. (2017) Environmental impact of textile reuse and recycling. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652618305985#bib39
        1. Drennin, K. (2015) How the Fashion Industry is Picking Up the Threads After Rana Plaza. Alternatives Journal. https://www.alternativesjournal.ca/policy-and-politics/how-fashion-industry-picking-threads-after-rana-plaza

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