Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
As the annual wave of January Sales hysteria spreads across the nation’s high streets, I have been reflecting upon the fast fashion culture we have built around clothes. It seems to me that there are many things about the industry that we know, but often, without meaning to, choose to avoid remembering.
Though sale items in high street brands may be cheaper for us as consumers, it does not make the product any cheaper to produce environmentally. The same amount of cotton, leather, dye, and other natural resources have been “spent” in the making of the clothing. The fashion industry is the second largest polluting industry in the world, second only to oil. From poisoning the soil with pesticides, unethical marketing of GMO cotton to poor farming communities, and polluting the earth’s rivers with chemicals from textile work: The mass production of clothing alone is an environmental atrocity. Yet it only worsens with our fundamental complacency in a throw-away culture. When we buy a shirt believing it to have only cost a few pounds, we feel no shame in discarding something so “cheap.” This leads to the culmination of land fill sites stacked with non-biodegradable clothes omitting toxic gases.
Further still, can the cheap prices of the sale rack really justify the ethical cost on human life? Inhumane wages, horrifying working conditions, forgotten tragedies such as the Rana Plaza collapse — working environments that we would not accept for ourselves. Yet we impose such conditions on hundreds of thousands of ignored workers when we engage in fast, easy, and cheap fashion and consumerism.
Shopping has become second-nature to us — I find myself complimenting a new item of clothing on the people around me frighteningly often. It is ingrained in the rhetoric of our daily lives — retail therapy, hauls, shopaholics, buying new things for our loved ones; a new sale every season, a new trend every week.
It is particularly easy for us students to fall prey to this cycle of consumerism because “we’re poor students” and “it’s just so cheap.” Likewise, it is especially convenient to buy things online: just one click of a button and free shipping, too! Unfortunately, once again, this comes at a price, even if we are not paying for it financially.
While the new year has come and gone, resolutions are not limited to it. When we see a problem in the world that we have the power to change, we must act immediately. If we do not, then we risk evading it indefinitely.
In light of this, I would like to pose a mid-January challenge to everyone reading this.
See how long you can go saying no to fast fashion! This can be completed to varying degrees: If you are struggling to go without a “fashion fix,” hit up your local charity shop. Perhaps rummage through your wardrobe and discover some forgotten gems. And if you need new underwear, but cannot afford investing in an ethically sourced company, obviously go and buy some.
Implementing any sort of mindful spending in your life is an incredible change, and by beginning it you will soon realise how often we habitually buy new things online or in store.
If you would like to learn more about the topic of fast fashion, filmmaker Andrew Morgan made a wonderfully informative documentary entitled The True Cost (2015), which helped inform this article.
The bottom line is: We all do have enough; we do not need new clothes for every occasion. Buying things one needs is never the issue — it is the frivolous spending of surplus luxuries which can lead to us forgetting the true price of clothing. So begin today anew, because every piece of clothing matters.
Subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.
More on Mental Health on Campus: