I have a confession to make: I am a recovering shopaholic.
It makes sense that I would write a fashion column, attempt to dress fashionably every day, want to work in the industry and have a problem spending money on clothing. But does it have to?
My freshman year was full of emotional ups and downs. While this seems to be a rite of passage for any college freshman, the way that I dealt with my problems was perhaps a bit less conventional. When I wanted to avoid dealing with things, I would hop in my car alone and go to whatever local stores piqued my interest. On the days when I chose to go to Goodwill, my wallet didn’t suffer too much damage, but even a trip to Target could be dangerous.
Before long, I realized that I couldn’t sustain this habit. Not only was it an unhealthy way to avoid my feelings, but I was also amassing a collection of clothing and accessories that would make me happy for a few days then end up in the back of my seemingly shrinking closet. With my family moving halfway across the country from Oak Ridge, Tenn., to Rockwall, TX, I knew I would have to be much more selective about both the things I wanted to keep in my wardrobe and the things I would later choose to add.
With the April collapse of the Rana Plaza, a building housing several garment factories for clothing companies in Savar, Bangladesh, claiming the lives of at least 892 employees (according to The New York Times), the fashion industry and myself got the wake up call we needed. It’s easy to continue buying cheap tee shirts when it doesn’t seem like a life or death situation for the factory workers who are making them, but after this tragedy and multiple others in its wake, it is clearly time for a new, ethically conscious movement in fashion.
It’s not as simple as boycotting the brands who use those factories, either. According to Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, a boycott could actually hurt the workers even more.
“If consumers stop buying, that is like a boycott and a boycott doesn’t help us. Instead, we want people to write letters to Wal-Mart, talk to their communities and friends about what is happening, raise their voice and protest at the stores with their physical presence. We want U.S. consumers to say, “We’re watching you and we demand that you pay attention,” Akter said in an interview with the magazine The Nation.
Basically, even if we swear to only shop second-hand or locally made goods, that still won’t help the employees suffering to make the cheap clothes that many of us consider guilty pleasures. So, what’s a fashionable college student to do?
I will be the first to say that I haven’t boycotted all fast-fashion. I take the quote from Akter to heart. But, at the same time, what I have avoided is putting so much emphasis on shopping in my personal life. It’s a luxury to be able to even buy one new thing per season, so why should I buy ten?
As I’ve become more minimalist in my fashion habits and tastes, I’ve come up with a strategy for purposefully adding new things to my wardrobe. Hopefully readers can relate when I mention the fact that I spend a lot of time on the Internet.
While browsing my favorite fashion and inspiration sites, I used to want to buy everything that sparked my interest. Now I pay more attention to the things that I “pin” or “like” over and over again. For instance, this fall, the only things I wanted were a black wool hat and a black motorcycle jacket because I found so many inspiring outfits online incorporating these two items.
My new philosophy isn’t perfect. I still love a good “thrift haul” or a bargain from Forever 21, but when I buy things that I have actually considered for months rather than for minutes, I know I will love them for years to come. Not only is each purchase a more thoughtful attempt at building a wardrobe, but this philosophy has also shown me what’s important less thinking about clothes, more thinking about others.