In this day and age, we're all too aware of the impacts of fast fashion. The trouble seems to be parting ways with our habitual shopping sprees. We know it's bad for the planet and thrives off labour exploitation, but we just can't seem to turn our backs to a bargain. Is fashion FOMO driving this insatiable appetite for newness?
Fashion FOMO - or the fear of missing out - is the anxious need to keep up with the latest fashion trends. It's that itching desire to buy a new ensemble for every date night or thanksgiving. It's the panic and anticipation before every fashion launch. It's that sinking feeling when it's out of stock, the regret for waiting too long to buy it in your size. It's the midnight binge of the latest LFW coverage or the daily browse of ASOS new arrivals. It's the constant, envious scrolling through influencer feeds. Fashion FOMO is a withdrawal symptom, a craving for that fleeting dopamine hit after every purchase you make.
Fast fashion is called just that for a reason. Runway looks are translated into affordable high street fashion in a matter of weeks. Brands are pumping out 52 micro-seasons a year and, in the age of social media, there's now a massive pressure to keep up-to-date with everything current or fashionable.
I too was once swept up in the frenzy, pre-planning every outfit choice weeks in advance. I made impulsive purchases, as a reward, as therapy, as a just because. I even felt ashamed uploading the same outfit more than once to the gram.
But when you start to realise how the fast fashion industry operates – through fragmented supply chains, through mass-producing temporarily trendy clothes and through large environmental output – you realise that the issue is so much bigger than yourself. We take for granted the luxury to be able to afford so many new clothes and throw them away after just a few wears. This privilege isn’t often available to those countries who make our clothes or are burdened with our cast-offs. The pressure to constantly showcase new outfits seems pretty trivial in comparison.
But how can we overcome that niggling feeling of insecurity?
Stop window shopping
I used to frequent shopping malls, ogling the mannequins and stroking all the fabrics. But after vowing to quit the high street, I went cold turkey overnight. I stopped putting myself in vulnerable positions by avoiding the stores at all cost. Being in that environment, for me, was a fool-proof way to make unnecessary purchases. Just as you shouldn't go grocery shopping when you're hungry, I shouldn't have gone clothes shopping when I was feeling sad, when I was bored with time to kill or when I was wearing something that didn't make me feel great - but I did!
The one time I slipped up on my shopping ban was when I found myself in Bluewater and fell victim to the tempting lure of fast fashion. See, fast fashion harnesses the feeling of FOMO to drive customer sales. Whether it's the IKEA maze effect or Zara's 'once it's gone, it's gone' mantra, fast fashion deploys every trick in the book to keep us wanting more.
In times of temptation, I like to remind myself of just how stressful shopping can be. I imagine the frustration of joining a long queue for the unflatteringly lit changing rooms; the determination needed to safely navigate around the likes of Primark; or the terrifying scramble in the Boxing Day sales. It's a very overwhelming experience, and one I now firmly avoid.
Detox your social media
Fast fashion is everywhere. It's in the magazines, on the billboards, and, now, it's on our phones. With 21 Buttons and the Instagram swipe up feature, it's now easier than ever to replicate the style of your fashion icons in a few simple clicks.
Social media is the worst culprit in the way it capitalises on low self esteem and impulsive consumerism. I started by blocking targeted ads to slowly change my Facebook algorithm. I then unfollowed those influencers who didn't make me feel good in what I already owned. I also unsubscribed from every email newsletter or notification (like the ones that kindly reserve your basket for you with an added discount.)
If the temptation is too much, I would also recommend blocking the likes of Pretty Little Thing from your browser. They were one of the first to master a sense of urgency on their website - think the constant promo codes, the free next day delivery or those annoying alerts that tell you 12 people are also currently viewing that skirt.
Change your mindset
So you've cleansed your phone, but you can feel the compulsive need to shop, shop, shop creeping back in. Here is where the mindset change needs to kick in. It's all about rediscovering what's already hanging up in your wardrobe. It's about rewiring your brain to stop thinking you need to buy new outfits for every upcoming event. There’s a lot of power and satisfaction in putting your middle finger up to fast fashion brands by becoming a serial outfit repeater - think of how much money, time and energy you'll save! This is still an ongoing process but I have definitely found myself growing in body confidence ever since I broke up with my fast fashion addiction.
Rent, rent, rent
With H&M and Urban Outfitters jumping on the rental bandwagon, renting is quickly becoming a billion dollar industry. Renting is great for those one off formal events, like a graduation or a wedding, which require more than an everyday outfit. Instead of buying that new year's sequin dress that will soon collect dust at the back of your wardrobe, you can use apps like HURR to rent outfits for a limited time period. It's also a brilliant way to trial some designer pieces before committing to a purchase you may not need.
Swap with your friends
Swapping your clothes is the easiest way to get that new clothes feeling for free. Gather all of your friends, crack open a bottle and host your own catwalk show. Shopping a friend's closet is a great opportunity to push yourself out of your comfort zone to find the right style for you.
You could also scout out some swap events that are happening near you. Another alternative is Big Sister Swap who offer customised swapping services. Simply select your desired package and send off your clothes. The lovely team will then curate a selection of garments and accessories catered to your choice which you will receive in the post!
It's admittedly unrealistic to switch off our materialistic tendencies overnight and vow to never purchase an item of clothing again - nobody here is advocating for the end of fashion. Second-hand clothing apps like Depop are doctor-approved for soothing bouts of fashion FOMO. Here, you can still buy branded, on-trend pieces for a fraction of the price without directly funding the fast fashion industry. Plus, by re-homing an unloved garment, it isn't left to rot in a landfill for 100+ years.
Depop, however, shouldn't be the be all and end all. It's easy to be sucked in, scrolling for hours until you find that perfect bargain. After all, sustainable fashion should be as slow as it is ethical. We still need to practice mindful consumption - delighting in the occasional fashion purchase and not being a sheep to short-lived, media-dictated trends.
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