Hello! I’m Lidia, a second year Economics and Geography student with an interest in social corporate responsibility, particularly within the fashion industry. My aim is to participate in the movement towards the global consolidation of ethical and sustainable fashion, which is why for a few months I will be interning with Be For Change. As my first post, I would like to share with you where my interest in social corporate responsibility stems from and my journey into becoming a more mindful consumer!
My previous perspective
Until recently I had a vision of the world and how it worked that lead me to become somewhat blind to our consumption patterns and their consequences to environmental and social degradation. I never stopped to think how my consumption habits were part of a larger unsustainable lifestyle. I had never really been a usual consumer of brands such as Zara, H&M, Topshop … However, I still bought my clothes from highstreet shops, that I naively thought to be better quality. I saw them as separated from the sweatshop production, simply because they had a higher price tag.
Now I know that this is not the case, and it is probable that most brands have outsourced their production to a similar location. It is likely you’re not paying more because the product is a higher quality and the company is paying their worker a living wage but because, it has a larger value added that has been created by the firm. We see this being done every day through flashy commercials that sell you this culture of more is better and that you need to keep up with the latest trends so you can be happy, empowered and be fulfilled, when it’s effect is probably the opposite.
This leads to consumers being pushed towards excessive consumption patterns that are on top unethical and very unsustainable. What I have also come to notice is that because we don’t ask ourselves who made our clothes, in what conditions or where, we become somewhat disconnected. In the sense that we buy products without bearing in mind that they are made by people and using resources that we depend upon. What is worse, one might even start to see it as something out of their reach (at least I did.) I saw events such as the Rana Plaza collapse from the viewpoint that they occurred because this is how the world works and there’s not much I, as an individual, can do. How could my consumption habits have an impact on these large corporations that make insane profits?
Why I changed my mind…
Until I came to the realisation that we do have control over what we choose to buy and at the end of the day we are the ones that bear the power to change things. It is by choice that we walk into a store and purchase a product. By choosing not to buy from a certain producer we are signalling a discontent or dissatisfaction with that product, we signal that it doesn’t meet our demands. However, simple and obvious as this logic is, I believe it is hard to fully comprehend. The reason being that when you give up this mind process of ‘I’m just one more person amongst a mass that has no say’ then you realise that you now have a sort of responsibility. What is more, the initial thought of separation or being oblivious to the harmful practices of businesses acts as a way of justifying inaction.
This notion became even clearer to me as I progressed in my degree. As a student of Economics and Geography, I am prone to come across these concerns. One of my modules this year focused on labour relations and the practices of large corporations, learning about their wrongful action. But what I found most interesting was when our lecturer talked about value and how most value does not come from the product in itself but rather from business practices that create so called ‘added value’. Value added refers to the difference between the cost of inputs and the final price of the product.
This got me thinking about how much we have in fact distanced ourselves to the point where we no longer see the value in the actual product and what it does for us but rather, on what the company has created around it.
The changes I made
As my awareness of the awful practices in the fashion industry increased, I increasingly started to reject any product which I couldn’t trace back to its origin and know how it had been handled during production. This meant switching to a more aware consumption. The short term and most immediate difference has evidently been a change in what I buy. I now put a lot more thought into my purchases and try to be a more mindful consumer. However, what I would say has been the biggest difference is how I see and value products, seeing them as made by us and for us. You would assume that because I am buying much less, in fact only what I need, I am missing out or giving up something. It is very much the opposite case; I have in fact gained. Reducing my consumption and making sure I know what I am buying and the story behind it is a much more rewarding shopping experience. Mainly because you value and take pride in what you have purchased. I believe that what we wear affects how other’s see us and how we feel, it reflects us.
It is very true that it can be hard to find ethical brands that make products that you like and are affordable. Nonetheless, addressing production practices is only one side of the issue. Even if one reduces their consumptions habits and just thinks before buying that is already a step forwards. What I have come to realise is that it is not only the production process that has been undervalued but also consumption, we now live in a hyper-consumerist culture. A practice of mindful consumption that opposes established routines and values more sustainable consumption patterns is not only good environmentally and socially, but also good for you as a consumer. However obvious this mind process might seem, it can be hard simply because we unconsciously give in to this excessive buying culture (which for me has more negative aspect socially, environmentally and personally that positive.)
Where that leaves me now
All of these reasons led me to become interested in a movement led by enterprises such as this one, Be For Change, which are at the forefront of engaging in as well as starting a difficult conversation. Challenging conventional business practices which I find inspiring. Furthermore, as I started off and have hopefully transmitted that our mind-set is crucial for achieving a sustainable lifestyle and it is through talking, educating and engaging that this is changed and that is precisely what I feel like Be For Change does. It is engaging in a conversation that is hard, mainly because a lot of people aren’t willing to actively change their lifestyle - either because they wrongly don’t believe they have a powerful enough position or simply because they just can’t be bothered. If there is something I have realised, rather late considering I am studying a degree in economics, is that the consumer has the ultimate power. When you choose to reject the mainstream production and instead purchase from an ethical and sustainable business, that values you their producers and most importantly workers as well as the environment, a change is being made. A small but significant one that is fuelling a wider movement. How things work is not imposed on us, it is true that no one can single handedly change the mechanism of an entire industry but by acknowledging just how important everyone’s role is real changes can be made.
Something that helped me change my perspective was asking myself when I walked into high streets shops just how it is possible that the prices are so low, this meant asking myself at what personal, social and environmental cost has this product been made? This is the main difference between my previous and current attitude towards consumption, I am now aware of the power that my decisions can have and intend to use that power to help promote a culture of mindful consumption.