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If it’s broke, fix it: on being a conscious consumer

MILTON KEYNES, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 17: An employee sorts through books and other retail goods at their facility on November 17, 2006 in Milton Keynes, England. The online retailer is gearing up for the Christmas rush where over a two week period 400,000 units will pass out their doors to British customers. (Photo by Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)

An warehouse during the Christmas rush. Photo credit: D K (Flickr)

Ashleigh Stallard
 is here to dispel the myth that you can’t live according to your ideals without emptying your bank account and spending every waking moment researching supply chains. Ashleigh runs the design blog Shift

I talk to a lot of people about the concept of buying and living sustainably.

I love chatting to people already well on the journey, and who just “get it” – you can learn so much from inspiring people like these! We all have so much to learn, as brands and industries become more transparent, and as we understand what happens with the things we consume and discard.

I see that so many people still struggle with this shift towards sustainability, particularly when it comes to sustainable and ethical fashion: “But it’s so hard to buy sustainably!

Patagonia’s Black Friday ad in the New York Times, 2011

Often they see it as out of their price range, not accessible, hard to find information on, hard to compare brands and, overall, a mission to achieve.

So what we actually need to focus on is the idea of being a conscious consumer. 

Just stop and think. It’s not radical change, it’s just a state of awareness.

  • You don’t have to stop buying things.
  • You don’t have to throw away your cheap, fast fashion items and start building your wardrobe from scratch (please don’t!)
  • You don’t have to buy expensive things – clothes, homewares, furniture, anything else.
  • You don’t have to be a hippie.
  • You don’t even need to be an environmentalist!
  • You can tell others about the cool things you’ve found! Sharing is one of the best things we can do to spread this concept of conscious consumerism.

The Patagonia Worn Wear Wagon!

I had a family member say to me recently that she saw how poorly the women’s activewear brand Lorna Jane ranked in the recent Baptist World Aid and Oxfam fashion reports, and that she now felt bad for owning one of their tops.

First, I reacted (internally) with, “Yay! Ethical fashion really did infiltrate the mainstream media to get on the social radar!” It’s awesome that more people are simply aware that there are problems, and that we do have choices as consumers.

But I actually responded with, “Don’t feel like you need to get rid of it – now that you own it, wear it to death!”

That’s a huge part of sustainability and of being a conscious consumer.

There are many brands now encouraging their customers to mend items, rather than just throw them out and buy new ones – even if it means these companies are missing out on bottom-line dollars from purchases of new products.

Patagonia’s Worn Wear Wagon

Nudie Jeans is another pioneering brand offering repair services, encouraging their customers to bring their well-worn jeans in for a makeover, saving them dollars (and that often painful wearing-in-to-comfy-jeans process!). They also offer DIY repair kits, recycle worn out denim and resell used garments – plus they produce transparently, using 100% organic cotton. Patagonia is a leader when it comes to this concept. The global outdoor gear company champions the approach “If it’s broke, fix it!” with their Worn Wear program. They share stories of worn wear, guide people on how to fix their stuff at home, and show people how and where to recycle garments once they’re done with them. They even employ 45 full-time repair technicians in their Reno facility.

Not only is this cool for us consumers and the environment (think landfill as a laundry pile), but there is huge potential for businesses to tap into changing consumer behaviours.

A survey from the Sustainable Lifestyles Frontier Group sums it up beautifully: “A world where business prospers by helping consumers live more sustainably is an elegant solution to addressing social, environmental and economic needs.”

A Nudie Jeans repair shop

Save yourself money and mend things, share and swap things, do some googling, donate to op-shops and choose to buy from brands championing transparency, non-consumerism and slowing down. Be aware, and don’t think you have to make radical changes.

Here are some sites to get you started:

Also, check out the Good On You ethical shopping app – it’s free and it ranks and compares clothing and footwear brands for you.

Photo credits: D K cc; second, third and fourth images, Patagonia; Worn Wear Wagon, PSFK; Nudie Jeans, Retail Design.

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