I was looking forward to writing something about the relationship we have with our wardrobes. Following the famous Reduce / Reuse / Recycle sustainability guideline, I suggest to rethink the way we buy (or don’t) clothes.
1 – Stop over consuming – REFUSE
I am not just a wallet. There is more to me than this commercial inclination to buy goods. I deeply feel that what makes me happy lies somewhere else. In creative activities, in writing, cooking, in the existence of my friends and the peace of nature.
And yet. I am often weak. I often yield to the deceitful promises of the fashion industry. Consciously or not, I tend to believe that my social life will be better if I do buy this new jacket. That my self-confidence depends on what I am wearing.
Am I particularly weak, though? Not at all. Marketers are particularly strong.
In my Business School, I actually learnt some marketing techniques based on the study of consumers’ psychology. One of them is called the Means-End chain model. Its states that products are consumed because they are instrumental in attaining more abstract values, such as self-respect, excitement, sense of belonging or security. As marketing students, we were also given a method meant to trigger purchasing decisions. Advertisings need to emphasize the product’s attributes that will allegedly help reaching these end values, and ultimately, happiness.
Are you looking for fun and a sense of belonging? Drink Cocagina! Excitement and peer’s respect? Easy as driving a fancy car. Self-respect? First, dress appropriately…
I can testify that this is how future marketers are trained. This is how they learn to make us buy, leveraging the universal desire to be happy.
As beautifully stated by Longines (a brand that I love), “Elegance is an attitude”. Any paradox here?
2 –Tidy this wardrobe up! – REDUCE
This second point is just the logical continuation of the first one.
I suggest tidying our wardrobe on a regular basis. Putting all our clothes, shoes, and accessories on our bed and look at the quantity. It will make us realize how much we possess.
With the question of surplus comes the question of the surplus’s impact on our well-being. Are the two linked by a causal effect? (quantity→ well being)
In my case, I can for sure answer that it is quite the reverse. It implies more cleaning, complicated moves, and a sense of suffocation. So, tidying is a good way to realize that we already have a lot and also to remember the existence of things we forgot we had.
(In case you wonder, I am not a cleaning-maniac and my hobbies include a variety of other things. But I like the aftermath of cleaning).
3 – Give your items a second chance – REPAIR & RECYCLE
The two points above were about “Refusing” (the power of marketing in your life) and “Reducing” (your consumption).
This one is about “Repairing and Recycling”
Before buying new clothes, we should ask ourselves:
– Can I repair my item of clothing that is holed, broken or damaged before getting rid of it? I know, you can’t. Me neither.
But what about we learn?
I just read this quote by the CEO of Patagonia, Rose Marcario:
“It’s a radical thought, but change can start with just a needle and thread.” Challenge accepted!
-And if I really need a new one, can I find a second-hand version of it?
It will be cheaper for me. And I will give a second life to an item that would otherwise be discarded. The first time my environmentalist friend Clem told me about buying second hand clothes, I clearly thought he had reached a point of no return. It was in the summer of 2015. Some months later, this option seems conceivable to me.
In Toronto, consider a visit to Value Village. They have big depots with vast choices and honestly, if you take time to rummage in the alleys you will find more than decent clothes for nothing.
4 – Be selective in the brands you choose – RESEARCH
The three previous points could refer to any consumption goods. Refusing, reducing, repairing and recycling are not specific to clothes.
When it comes to actually buying clothes, prefer brands that are known to not use toxic chemicals and dyeing products or who don’t take advantage of cheap labour in developing countries. I know the information is not always easy to get. Big fashion brands themselves often say (pretend?) that they don’t even know what their suppliers do and don’t have control over them.
To what extent are companies responsible for the business practices of their suppliers, lower in the value chain? Do you think it is their responsibility to stop contracting with suppliers who behave badly?
If you answered yes to the previous question, apply this logic to yourself. Look at the lower rung of the ladder. Be vigilant with the practices of the company you are buying clothes from. It sure requires some research and time. But companies who invest in doing things right don’t hide it.
Patagonia’s Footprint chronicles is a beautiful example of an effort to give customers transparency about how their products are made. On a map, Patagonia displays its factories, its textile mills and the farms it works with. When you click on them, information is given about the number of workers, the gender mix, what is produced there and the history of the partnership with Patagonia.
Patagonia uses only organic cotton since 1996. A cotton grown without causing damages to the soil, the water or the ecosystems. It is still more expensive than conventionally grown cotton and the price of their products reflects it. This being said, buying Patagonia is like an investment: this jacket will last for years. And in case it needs a repair, you can ask Patagonia to do so. They have a garment repair facility and the stores’ staff is trained to do the minor repairs.
There would pages and pages to be written about Patagonia’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) practices. You can read more about them here if you are interested.
I like to end with this example because Patagonia’s philosophy encapsulates all the four key points mentioned above: Refuse, Reduce, Repair & Recycle, Research. In my opinion, this brand pioneers a new kind of relationship with customers that is no longer based on mistrust. Instead, it bets that information and transparency will be key to build stronger customer relationships. THAT is brilliant marketing.