When it comes to people who boycott industries, there always seem to be vast reserves of vituperation to be tapped, such that you'd never find levelled against your average high street consumer. I wanted to jot down a few thoughts about so-called ‘ethical’ consumerism (with a focus on fashion), the environment, and how we could create more scope for climate change sceptics and climate campaigners to meet in the middle.
I don’t boycott shops as a blanket rule, and have written about the whys and wherefores elsewhere on this site; yet my choices as a consumer are sympathetic to, and informed by, that camp. My diet is also void of any food group of the animal variety, so I know what it’s like to be politely niggled for your purchasing tendencies. And it’s always surprising, as I’ve written before, how many ‘omnibuyers’ are prepared to call you out on your choices.
I understand that it’s human nature to defend before we reflect. And to someone whose consumerism is all-embracing, a person who chooses to boycott certain industries might come across as a bit holier than thou. But I can’t help but feel slightly frustrated sometimes that the ‘normal’ go-to reaction to anyone with an alternative spending approach is to attack and pick holes, rather than engage in a meaningful debate about the environmental cost of fast fashion. I’m frequently called upon to defend my buying habits, with a particular focus on any perceived inconsistencies with regard to the ‘stance’ that I’ve taken, and while it doesn’t bother me on a personal level, it bothers me how quick people are to shut down when it comes to our responsibility to protect the planet.
My stance is thus: as I mentioned, I don’t subscribe to all-out boycotts. In terms of the fashion industry, I’m very aware of the negative pressure that a fast-fashion business model puts on the planet’s resources, let alone the human impact, and I try to cultivate a slow-fashion approach as a counterpart. I love clothes and accessories, and I try to buy second hand and vintage; I’ll treat myself sometimes to a piece by a designer who I know has sourced their wares sustainably. A total reliance on second hand goods is itself unsustainable, because firstly, it vindicates the existence of high street stores by implicating them in its survival, and secondly, clothes have a shelf life; at some point, new items have to be made. But what buying second hand does do is slow fashion down, that is, it goes some way towards reining in the pace of production; yes, my wardrobe is mostly populated with twice-loved ‘high street’ goods, but when I have to buy new – as we all do – I know there are shops out there that I can afford to spend a little more in, in order to guarantee an environmentally fair product. Howies are top champs for sporting gear; People Tree cater for general bits and bobs.
I had three conversations last week in which I was compelled to account for my choices. I’ll happily chat to people about boycotting and its effectiveness, and I don’t expect that everyone will be convinced by my spending approach. But I do find myself baffled at times by the vehemence with which some people – mostly omnibuyers, with little concern for their own environmental impact – highlight your discrepancies: ‘ok, so you buy vintage clothes, but didn’t you fly to Spain in 2008? And didn’t I see you use a chemical detergent at your housewarming party last May?’
I think a degree of hypocrisy is always inherent when it comes to the environment. For every effort you make, you are probably doing ten times as many detrimental things, no matter how small and no matter how gritty your will. I would like to go greener in many, many more respects, and have a lot to work on in terms of my carbon footprint. But I admit to that, and am the first to hold my hands up – as a precursor to any discussion on environmental valour – and emphasise that while I have strong opinions and rigid spending habits, I am not a model eco-warrior, and would never masquerade as such. I believe it’s about being entitled to the views you hold while denouncing the expectation of perfection; admitting your shortcomings but not denying the passion and urgency you feel when it comes to our planet. And ultimately, it’s about doing the very best you can, and staying informed. If protecting the environment becomes about being squeaky clean (or squeaky green) and having the perfect rejoinder to every ‘yes, but …’ rebuttal, that in itself will not drive change on a global scale, because it is human nature to recoil at and feel intimidated by perfectionism. Rather, it ought to be about encouraging more reflection and engaging more people, by conveying impassioned viewpoints while being the first to admit the difficulty of change, and the nigh-on impossible task of getting everything right.
At this stage, at least, I think we have to sell moderation as the best way of engaging as many people as possible in the cause, even if, as passionate campaigners, we lean towards the extreme. In five years' time, this may no longer be the case ...
I’ve had a number of conversations recently about conformity. One particular conversation I had with an old friend stood out, not necessarily because of its content, but because of my friend’s unbending commitment to ‘nonconformity.’
It seems like an odd pairing of terms: commitment to nonconformity. Try saying it with a mouthful of croissant; there’d be flaky bits everywhere. I always thought nonconformity belonged to a more spontaneous and relaxed ilk; I didn’t realise you had to commit to it. To do so sounds like a dreadfully tiring feat. I mean, do you set reminders on your phone? Do you mount a plaque on your kitchen wall, ‘thou shalt not conform today’? I rather got the impression that not conforming had become a key part of her identity, and that sticking to it had become a bit of a conformist trend in itself.
Yet there’s an essence in her argument that’s stuck with me. To be ever alert to our automatic tendencies, and decide whether or not we always need to live by the same patterns, or follow a path unquestioningly, is helpful. My friend is hyper-vigilant when it comes to conformity, almost to the point – I sense – that she has to be seen to not conform, in order that her sense of self is affirmed. But that preparedness of mind appeals to me. It made me think about all the things I do that I seldom question (if ever). I’ve listed a few of them – as well as some thoughts on how and why I might try to be less ‘conformist’ a propos said themes – below:
What do you think about conformity? A trend, a yardstick for a certain identity, or a valuable human asset? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – do get in touch via the means below, and let me know what you think.
A series of miscellaneous ramblings.