Can Ethical Clothing Help Transform Your Relationship with Shopping?

The following is a guest post from Emma of This Kind Choice (UPDATE:  Sadly, this blog is no longer online).   Emma makes it her mission to make ethical fashion choices simple, stylish and satisfying.  It is her belief that fashion that is better for the planet and the people producing it is better for us, too.  Emma studies Fashion and Business in Wellington, New Zealand, and loves prints, colour and peanut butter. 

If you have an idea for a guest post on “Recovering Shopaholic,” please connect with me to share your thoughts.

I have never been addicted to shopping. And yet I am all too familiar with the overwhelmingly strong pull followed by disgust and self-hatred, with the guilt, with the complete lack of joy in what I consumed. My experiences with disordered eating put me through all of these emotions, and I know them all too well. One thing I found tremendously helpful in my recovery was finding a way of eating that truly aligned with my values (in my case, veganism).

Ethical clothing and shopping

How does your shopping align with your values?

Today, I want to explore whether the same idea could provide a valuable tool for creating a more balanced way of buying. One that works for us, rather than against us. Like food, I believe the place shopping has in our lives is not black or white, but rather made up of subtle nuances of grey. We are not either compulsive shoppers or have a perfect relationship with shopping, just like we are not either anorexic or completely healthy in the way we view food. Whether we fall towards the lighter or the darker ends of that spectrum, I truly believe that finding a way of buying that resonates with what we really value can help transform our relationship with shopping.

Go Beyond Guilt

Guilt is no place to create change, yet I think it’s safe to say it’s a feeling all of us have had about shopping at one time or another.

One of our main beliefs is that it is only through shame, judgment and deprivation that we truly change… But the problem with repressing desires is that instead of going away, they get stronger… Rather than engage in the usual fear tactics of repression, it’s possible to make room for wants and desires.” – Geneen Roth, ‘Lost and Found’

Ethical clothing can empower us to create positive changes for the planet and the people producing our clothing through what we buy – and move from guilt to enjoyment, appreciation, satisfaction. I am not suggesting that we redirect the sheer volume of overbuying towards ethical alternatives – after all, they do still use some resources. But when we remove the guilt, when we feel like we spend our time, energy and money on something that we believe in, we are actually able to savour that item and move towards a feeling of enough

The feeling that my food choices were a vote for a world I wanted to be a part of allowed me to eat that cookie and begin to enjoy it. And it was enough. One cookie, not fifteen followed by self loathing. In the same way, I believe that knowing that what we buy contributes to creating a world we are excited and proud to be a part of gives us a chance to begin experiencing and enjoying that piece of clothing. Ethical purchases can be a step towards breaking the cycle of desperately desiring something, feeling horrible after buying it, stuffing it in the back of our closet and heading out to shop again a few days or weeks later.

Be Part of More

When my food choices became about greater, more global things than just the size of my thighs, things shifted within me. When our shopping has value beyond our immediate self and we are empowered to create change, the focus changes completely.

Geneen Roth mentions the impact of moving away from seeing buying as a guilt-riddled act to be done in secrecy:

 …takes away the focus on I-me-mine. It widens the vision, allows me to see that the world is bigger than this particular thing at this particular moment. I begin to ask questions that are impossible to consider when I am convinced that the only way to get something is to ‘steal’ it. Does this sweater/bouquet of flowers/t-shirt come from a country that employs child labor? Does the production of it hurt the environment in any way? Am I supporting something I believe in by making this purchase?” – from ‘Lost and Found’

Ethical clothing choices can create an uplifting cycle, rather than a vicious one. When we erode some of the guilt, we are able to widen our perspective on the impacts of our choices, allowing us to make choices that really align with our values, which in turn takes away more of the guilt we previously linked to buying.

Give Yourself Space and Time

Buying ethically made and environmentally friendly clothes takes a bit more time and effort within the current “fast fashion” system, there is no denying it. And while I really, really wish and work for a world in which buying an ethical pair of jeans is as easy as buying a newspaper, I do think there is some value in the focus required right now to buy better. While fast fashion pushes you to shop mindlessly, ethical fashion asks you to shop mindfully. Mindful of your needs, as well as those of the producers of the clothes and the planet.

Researching different brands or materials, searching for better alternatives, informing ourselves – these all create an often much needed pause between the moment of wanting or needing and the final decision to buy. Debbie has often mentioned the Power Pause, and it’s such a worthwhile shopping habit whether we have the tendency to overshop or not. Ethical shopping gives you that moment to step back and ask yourself if this going to be a truly fulfilling buy. Fulfilling on all levels:

  • Does it satisfy what you are looking for, or are you really searching for something else (comfort, the feeling that you are worthy of luxury, etc.)?
  • Does it fit within your existing wardrobe?
  • Does it meet the standards and morals you believe in?

We all deserve things that tick all of these boxes, and when we find them, we can really enjoy them – guilt free!

The idea wasn’t to reject shopping completely, but to understand how I could make meaningful choices in my shopping. To understand, in fact, how I could shop consciously.” – Avis Cardella, ‘Spent’

I really believe that ethical clothing can be an important part of this shift to a conscious attitude towards shopping. It’s about creating a relationship with shopping that is not only better for the environment and the producers of the clothing, but better for us, too.

7 thoughts on “Can Ethical Clothing Help Transform Your Relationship with Shopping?

  1. This is a very interesting take on reasons for shopping ethically, thank you Emma! I find the parallel with food very interesting, it isn’t the first time I see (or even use myself) a comparison between shopping and food habits, I find it very clear, and true.

    After all, we live in a society where we are told to be thin, but are surrounded with much more food than we need to survive, plus food advertisements. Same for shopping, we earn a certain amount of money and have limited needs, yet there are all these things around us, supported by advertisments that tell us we’ll be happier if only we got that new thing. In the end, it is about making mindful choices and reconnect with deeper values. Thank you again for that refreshing post 🙂

    • Thanks Kali, glad you liked it!
      Like you said, food and shopping are both pushed onto us in huge quantities, far beyond what we really need. While they’re essential to some degree (we all need to eat and clothe ourselves) there’s also a lot of pleasure, self-worth and power wrapped up in those things. I found a focus on deeper values useful in working out the kind of relationship I wanted to have with these things, and I hope others do too 🙂

  2. Thanks so much for this wonderful article, Emma! I’m sure my readers appreciate your insights. As someone who also struggled with eating disorders for many years, I can definitely identify with what you wrote about your experience. I do think that finding a way to eat or shop that aligns with our values can help in the recovery process. Reading “Overdressed” had a big impact on me and made me think twice about buying so much and about where I bought my clothes. Most people don’t think about where their clothes (or food) comes from. Learning the specifics can help us to make better choices because when we know better, we often do better.

    I really love the final quote you used from Avis Cardella. That’s what I’m working towards right now – making meaningful choices with my shopping and learning how to shop more consciously. It’s certainly not easy, but it IS worth the effort!

    I hope many of my readers will visit your wonderful blog, as you present a lot of great insights on fashion, ethics, and wardrobe management there. I always enjoy reading what you write and I believe others will as well!

    • Thank you Debbie! If at some stage you’re willing to share, I would be very interested to know how your difficulties with food and shopping interacted. Did one become better as the other became worse, or was there a time when both were difficult areas of your life? And I agree that knowing better can be a good first step towards doing better 🙂

      It is a great quote, and it really underlines that this effort to create a better relationship with buying brings US many benefits, as well as being better for the environment and the producers of the clothing.

      • I would be happy to share more about my food and shopping difficulties, Emma. Perhaps I will do a future post on that topic, but for now I’ll simply say that my shopping issues worsened considerably as my eating issues improved. I hadn’t dealt with the underlying issues for both problems (which I’m working on now – most posts on THAT topic coming up as well), so I did a lot of symptom substitution. Actually, I struggled with both eating and shopping for about 20 years. The eating issues haven’t been as much of an issue for me since my early 30s (I’m now 47), but the shopping issues have been MUCH worse since that time. Something to ponder and write more about for sure!

  3. When I think of ethical shopping I think back to when I was young and a time when shopping was not a hobby, there was limited choice and people made a lot of their own clothes.
    When I was a university student in the 70’s I owned very few clothes as did my friends. We weren’t interested either!!! We were not interested in amassing large wardrobes and when I needed a new skirt I made it myself. We wore the same things over and over. Our meals were simple too.
    Then along came branding, marketing (a new degree course!) and “power dressing” and along with that we became “image conscious” and had to wear certain clothes, makeup and hair to send the right message about who we were. Shopping became a new experience.
    Reading Lucy Siegle’s book “Fashion to Die For -Is Fashion Wearing out the World” is an eye-opener and I try to be more thoughtful about what I am buying nowadays. The reality is we all probably have enough clothing in our cupboards to last for 5 years but we are caught up in the style, fashion and image messages we are bombarded with. Not just our clothes, but our interiors, cars and what food we serve. It’s hard work to consciously release ourselves from this.

    • Things seem to have changed a lot, CS! You’re absolutely right, shopping is now seen as an experience rather than a way of fulfilling our needs. While that can make it an enjoyable thing to do, if it’s our primary source of enjoyment or we do it exclusively to get that pleasure as opposed to getting pleasure from what we already own, things aren’t looking so balanced. It does take work and consistency to release ourselves from that attitude but I think it’s worth it 🙂

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